The next round of funding for Mercer’s Academic Initiatives Monetary Fund is fast approaching, with letters of intent due Jan. 25, 2010, and completed applications are due Feb. 22, 2010. The AIM Fund encourages Mercer faculty to develop unique programs that support interdisciplinary teaching, learning and scholarship at the highest levels of excellence by providing initial funding to develop innovative, interdisciplinary and cross-institutional academic initiatives that have the potential to become national Centers of Excellence for the University.
The 2009-2010 round of funding was recently announced and five collaborative “Centers of Excellence” are now under development across the University. These projects are faculty-led showcases of teaching and learning at Mercer.
Among the projects that received funding for the first time this year are:
The Phronesis Project: Exploring Character, Practical Wisdom, and Professional Formation, co-directed by Dr. Paul Lewis, associate professor of Christianity; Mark Jones, professor of law; and Dr. Kelly Reffitt, assistant professor of education, earned its first year of funding as a feasibility study of $34,983. This project grew out a four-year exploration within the University of vocation and professionalism across the professions, which was sponsored by the University’s Quality Enhancement Plan and the University Commons. Professional formation has become a timely topic through the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s recent reports on the professions, but it has long been a focus at Mercer, ranging from the School of Medicine’s specific mission of service to the School of Law’s unique first-year professionalism courses to the Tift College of Education’s and School of Theology’s emphasis on character traits or dispositions as prerequisite for practice. The Phronesis Project proposes to deepen and highlight this Mercer distinctive throughout the curriculum, as well as to develop a unique national venue for addressing character development and professional formation through interdisciplinary, case-based workshops, symposia and conferences on the cultivation of practical wisdom in the professions.
The Faith-Based Palliative-Care Project, designed to build a three-way partnership between Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, McAfee School of Theology and the metro Atlanta faith community, received $19,825 for a feasibility study. The project, co-directed by Dr. Linda Streit, interim dean of the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing, and Dr. Janet Timms, professor of nursing, will engage faculty and students in community-based research to gauge interest in, and field test materials for, an outreach program that will develop lay health-adviser training in palliative and end-of-life care. If successful, the project could become a signature service-learning outreach for nursing, pharmacy and theology students and help address a growing need in the state for support for palliative care for chronic illnesses and at the end of life.
The Mercer Center for Preschool Science, Mathematics and Health Education, a project co-directed by Dr. Robert Lawrence, assistant professor of education, and Dr. Julie Jones, assistant professor of nursing. The Center received $35,000 for feasibility study and is built on a strong existing partnership with a statewide nonprofit, Sheltering Arms, and its Georgia Training Institute. The project will develop, field test and assess materials and methods for preschool teachers in the areas of science, mathematics and health. The Center was created as a response to an increasing national mandate for standards for pre-school education, as well as recognizing that inadequate academic preparation and childhood obesity are common variables for many at-risk populations of preschool children. The Center hopes to contribute in a unique way to a rapidly developing national conversation, to attract a newly emerging population of professionals seeking credentialing in pre-school education, and to offer exceptional research opportunities to Ph.D. students in the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing and the Tift College of Education. Dr. Lawrence has extensive previous experience as director of special projects, research and accountability for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning and is currently the Principal Investigator for a U.S. Department of Education research grant on the teaching effectiveness of preschool teachers.
Two centers received continued funding this year as well.
The Center for the Teaching of America’s Western Foundations, co-directed by Dr. Will Jordan, associate professor of political science; Dr. Matt Oberrieder, assistant professor of philosophy; and Dr. Susan Malone, associate dean of Tift College of Education, received $100,000. The Center promotes the teaching and study of the founding principles and values of the American political system and of the Western cultural tradition that grounds it. In the past year, the Center has received a gift through the Jack Miller Center of a Liberty Fund library valued at $18,000 and has been awarded a Wal-Mart Foundation grant of $167,100. The Wal-Mart grant will fund a three-week summer workshop for 40 high school teachers from across the state. These teachers will learn to read and teach the primary texts of our Western political tradition, the books that Jefferson, Madison and the other founding fathers had in their libraries. The Center also sponsors lectures and symposia on campus by leading national scholars throughout the year.
The Center for the Treatment of Neurodegenerative Diseases received its second year of funding in the amount of $100,000. The center, whose principal investigator is Dr. Lee Hyer, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, focuses on the treatment and symptomatic relief of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It takes a broadly interdisciplinary approach to translational clinical trials, monitoring of disease-modifying treatments, and the clinical, psychological and social context of treatment. In the past year, the center has established the Mercer University Memory Clinic at the Family Health Center in Macon to provide a point of entry and recruitment for clinical trials. It has received a grant of $204,000 from the Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. for translational drug studies, with Dr. Samuel Shillcutt, as co-principal investigator. The center has applied for an additional $3 million in grant applications have been submitted and are under review. The Center has secured matching funds from the Georgia Neurological Institute to hire a Ph.D. neuropsychologist as a post-doctoral fellow to coordinate the project. In addition, 10 students (eight undergraduate students and two medical students) have been recruited to participate in research and application of interventions with persons who are cognitively impaired.
For further information concerning the AIM Fund visit http://www.mercer.edu/provost/AIM/.