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MU tapping into research program

Nov. 13, 2009 @ 08:36 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Since the spring of 2008, the Marshall University Foundation has raised more than $750,000 in cash and pledges as part of the state's five-year match plan.

Known as "Bucks for Brains," the legislation was passed by West Virginia legislators in March 2008. Marshall University and West Virginia University both have the opportunity to go after some big matching state funds -- $15 million for Marshall and $35 million for WVU. If the institutions don't reach those milestones, they still get to keep a state match equal to what they raised.

To date, Marshall has realized about $1.5 million in private and state-matched dollars, while WVU has reached a combined $6.97 million, according to a Nov. 6 release on the institution's Web site.

John Maher, vice president for research at Marshall University Research Corporation, which realizes the interest from the endowments, said the university has only just tapped into the pot. And he's confident that the university can realize the full potential by 2013.

"I feel very comfortable," Maher said. "The economy goes through phases. You've seen it in the stock market. A lot of value has come back."

Not only did the economy plummet as the program was just getting started, but the fact that it is still such a new initiative means it takes time to get off the ground, he said.

"The economy plays a role, but there are other elements," Maher said. "I think our activity will increase from here."

For every $50,000 each university raises, they submit statements to the Higher Education Policy Commission, which releases matching funds.

"This matching fund program makes sensible investments in applied research that will help diversify our economy, stimulate new business ventures and produce new jobs," Marshall President Stephen Kopp said. "Growth in tax revenues will be an important dividend. Every private dollar supporting research at Marshall University will be matched by a dollar from the state, doubling the impact."

All of the money goes into endowments, and the university's research entities use interest from the endowments to attract faculty and fund research projects.

"It's perhaps the most forward-thinking investment the state has made in recent memory," said Paul Hill, vice chancellor for science and research at the HEPC, in an article published on the Create West Virginia Web site.

"The ultimate goal is for West Virginia residents to reap financial benefits from industries this investment creates," Hill continued. "The fund will enable opportunities all the way from bench chemistry to manufacturing."

Hill said in a follow-up interview that he has no doubt the economy has slowed the pace of giving. Although legislators established the program before the economic downturn hit hard, Hill said he hasn't heard any talk of extending the five-year deadline.

"There's no talk of extending it that I've heard, but I'm optimistic (the institutions) will reach the goals," Hill said.

Maher said he expected fundraising to pick up because it is easier to sell this to possible donors.

"It's very compelling to donors to say that the state will match it," he said.

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