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Collaboration could help SUNY schools land new grants

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SUNY-ESF says it will compete for the next round of SUNY 2020 Challenge Grants aimed at sparking economic growth. The school will look to partner with area public colleges to better its chances of winning a grant.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is leaning on New York’s network of public colleges to play a bigger role in economic growth -- and he’s proposing to provide the resources to do so. But there could stiff competition for those funds.Inside a chemistry lab on the campus of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, graduate assistants Jennifer Croskrey and Dara Salley are firing up lab equipment again after the month-long winter break.

The research on contamination in drinking water is the kind of work the college wants to expand as it increases its studies in environmental health.

New programs cost money to get off the ground. But that money could be available in a grant from the state’s SUNY 2020 program.

SUNY 2020 started last year with promises of multi-million dollar checks for the four major research universities in Buffalo, Binghamton, Albany and Stony Brook.

And now the challenge grant program is set to grow. Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a new round of grants in his State of the State address earlier this month.

“We want to expand that competition to the 60 other campuses for SUNY all across the state and have three awards of $20 million each to spur competition and provide funding for SUNY to reach the level of excellence that we all want them to reach,” declared Cuomo.

But with up to 60 campuses competing for just three grants, competition could be fierce.

And for a smaller school like the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, getting one of those grants could be a challenge. But ESF President Neal Murphy has an idea to better the odds.

He wants to team up with the other public schools in the region – like Upstate Medical University and SUNY Oswego – to develop a more powerful proposal.

“I’d like to see a collaborative proposal for our region,” says Murphy. “And is there a collaborative way that we could move forward that benefit the region forward as a whole, but also help advance all of those institutions?”

A joint application would build on collaboration already in progress among the schools.

Not far from the ESF and the Upstate Medical University campuses, construction is underway on the Central New York Biotechnology Research Center. Set to open this summer, it will house research labs for both ESF and the medical school.

It’s being built on the grounds of the former Kennedy Square housing project. The plan is to surround the labs with room for stores, restaurants and housing.

“That area of Kennedy Square where the biotech research center is located, where the Syracuse Center of Excellence [is located], is there something we that we can do that could enhance that to be the technology development area for Syracuse and central New York?” poses Murphy. “I think there is something that we could do.”

Using SUNY facilities to spark growth is exactly what the governor wants the challenge grants to accomplish.

$140 million is bookmarked for challenge grants this year, with the bulk coming from the executive budget.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher says SUNY is ready to help the Governor.

“Gov. Cuomo’s biggest challenge is creating jobs that will move the dial for New York’s economy. And he has clearly chosen to do so in partnership with SUNY. Gov. Cuomo is not alone in taking on this challenge,” said Chancellor Zimpher during her State of SUNY speech.

Details and deadlines on the new round of grants have not been released yet and requests for more information from the Governor’s office went unanswered. But ESF President Murphy says his school will definitely be submitting a proposal.