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Surge in FY2022 external funding reflects SECS aim to raise … – News at OU

icon of a calendarDecember 19, 2022
Oakland University School of Engineering and Computer Science Dean Louay Chamra has an established record for setting and then achieving goals to increase enrollment numbers, graduation rates, and outreach efforts in engineering and computer science. Most recently, he has set his sights on growing research funding and productivity in SECS. Thanks to that strategic planning and persistence, SECS has eclipsed its goal, and the future is looking bright for continued expansion of sponsored program research and innovation. 
SECS research expo
SECS faculty members showcased their research at the school’s 2022 Research Expo. 
For FY2022, SECS achieved a four-fold increase in federal grant funding, in large part by collaborations with industry and government, hiring of senior-level, research-active faculty and successful pursuit of large, highly competitive awards. SECS secured $9.6 million in federal grant funding in FY2022, up from $2.3 million the previous year. More than $6 million was research-focused, the result of a concerted effort to compete for large grants from top funding agencies like the National Science Foundation. 
The surge in resources is thanks to targeted efforts to raise the research profile of SECS over the past several years. Dean Chamra started by establishing specific resources in SECS, creating a Director of Research for the school, and founding an SECS Industrial Advisory Board to assist in targeting large-scale research activities. Dr. Daniel Aloi, SECS Director of Research, has helped to steer the school towards hiring faculty with competitive research agendas, increasing support for grant development, deepening engagement with the Research Office, and active networking with industry. This leadership approach has led to SECS faculty planning larger projects with collaborators outside of OU, and networking beyond the traditional disciplinary borders. “Over the past few years, we’ve been committed to increasing our research activity,” said Dr. Aloi. “We have more faculty participating in the grant proposal process, and we’ve built a foundation for success above where we’ve traditionally been.”
Several faculty received grant funding for projects over $1 million for research in collaboration with government and industry. They include Dr. Geoffrey Louie in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who obtained a $1.5 million Department of Defense grant to help the U.S. Army use virtual and augmented reality to develop inexpensive prototypes of ground vehicles.
Dr. Marouane Kessentini, new Professor and Chair in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, brought five federal grants from his previous post at UM-Dearborn. He’s added several more since arriving at OU, for a total of over $4 million. Dr. Kessentini was the recipient of  two prestigious Oakland University awards, 2022 Research of the Year, and 2022 Most Research Productive. Among his external grants is a $1 million award to establish a cybersecurity center for small and medium-sized manufacturers and another large NSF grant to build a large scale intelligent software repair framework. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the grant also includes SECS Professors Khalid Malik and Ali Malik (co-principal investigators) and is in partnership with Automation Alley, an Oakland County-based manufacturing and technology business association. The other large NSF grant is led by OU, with SECS Assistant Professor Mehdi Bagherzadeh as co-principal investigator, and involves five R1 universities.
“As a metropolitan university, one of our advantages is that we’re surrounded by many OEMs and companies. We try to serve the region’s needs,” said Dr. Aloi. “Automotive is the biggest, but we have the health care, energy and military sectors as well. We partner with them and also produce graduates who go into the workforce in those areas.” Most important, according to Dr. Aloi, is the strategic planning process that is integral to grow those industry/university networks and expand opportunities for research productivity.
Some of the largest projects recently undertaken in SECS are Industry University Cooperative Research Centers, created through NSF grant funding. Dr. Sayed Nassar, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, received a $700,000 grant to support establishment of the OU site of the Center for Composite and Hybrid Materials Interfacing (CHMI), continuing his career long trend for pioneering research projects. The center focuses on material-joining science and technology, which has extensive applications in the aerospace, automotive, national security, biomedical, energy and personal protective gear sectors.
NSF IUCRC center on pervasive AI event
OU researchers and industry partners came together for the NSF IUCRC Center on Pervasive Personalized Intelligence Workshop at OU in April 2022.
Dr. Kessentini directs the newly established OU site of the NSF supported Center on Pervasive Personalized Intelligence. The new, state-of-the-art research center supports the development of Artificial Intelligence applications that anticipate users’ needs, saving time, energy and money. “These research centers create a collaborative environment in which people from different specialties can work together to tackle larger, more complex problems in society,” Dr. Kessentini said. “Working closely with industry not only provides insight into identifying and solving these problems, it also better positions us to compete for large, highly sought-after awards.”
Though research accounted for most of SECS’ grant funding, awards were also obtained in the areas of instruction, public service, student services and scholarships. Dr. Huirong Fu, in the Computer Science and Engineering Department, received two awards totaling over $3 million to support nationally recognized cybersecurity training programs: the Cyber Defense Scholarship for Service Program and the GenCyber Teacher Program.
“Educational initiatives are extremely important because teaching and research go hand in hand,” said Dr. Aloi. “We gain a lot of knowledge and expertise from working on our research and bring those cutting-edge ideas into the classroom. We also involve students directly in our research, so they get hands-on experience that builds their skillset and reinforces classroom learning.”
Learn more about OU’s School of Engineering and Computer Science at oakland.edu/secs.
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