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Just since 2012, enrollment at Rowan University has jumped 52 percent, and now is home to more than 19,000 students. The University also added two medical schools, expanded its Glassboro campus as part of a $400 million public-private partnership, created dozens of new academic programs, and attracted a more competitive class of students.

At the same time, Rowan rapidly increased its research footprint. How did Rowan do it?

The transformative growth and expansion all started when the State of New Jersey designated Rowan as the state’s second comprehensive research university in 2012, a decision that led to the formation of the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University—the first new medical school in the state in 35 years—and the integration of the School of Osteopathic Medicine.

Five years later, in 2017, Rowan secured its Carnegie classification as a national doctoral research institution, and, less than two years after that, Rowan stepped up a rank in the Carnegie classification from R3 (moderate research activity) to R2 status (high research activity). Rowan is just one of 139 higher education institutions among the more than 4,300 colleges and universities across the country to hold that distinction.

“In looking at a snapshot of Rowan’s research in the last nine years, we’ve grown twelvefold,” said Dr. Beena Sukumaran, Vice President for Research at Rowan University. “We have $59 million in annual sponsored research and grants and we’ve experienced a rapid ascension from a Carnegie Research 3 (R3) to a Research 2 (R2) institution.”

Investing in the Future of Research & Students

The University’s research activity hit another milestone during the summer of 2019, when a collaborative team led by professors from the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering received a $14.5 million grant to lead a Department of Defense/ Army Research Lab project that has the potential to create new materials—and ways to process those materials—that will help modernize the Army and keep military personnel safe. The grant marks the largest-ever research award made to Rowan to date.

While expanding its research portfolio, Rowan has remained committed to undergraduate education and opened its doors to a growing number of students. In fact, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently named Rowan the fourth fastest-growing college or university in America among public doctoral institutions, a two-place gain over 2018-19.

Rowan focuses on applied research that solves real-world problems, but the University’s growing portfolio of research is not only serving the common good—it’s also providing hands-on experience to students.

The $14.5 million grant awarded this summer will allow a team led by Rowan to develop innovative materials through advanced manufacturing technologies under a U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory (ARL) cooperative agreement. Materials developed through the research program may be used for making military equipment stronger and lighter, soldiers more agile and vehicles more durable.

“This research initiative will employ at least 30 to 50 undergraduates each semester,” said Dr. Sukumaran. “Along with training the workforce of the future, Rowan is creating opportunities for developing businesses and supporting missions on a grander scale.”

Driving University-Industry Engagement

Rowan has six university research centers and institutes where talented faculty from various colleges and schools and their students work collaboratively on innovative research and often partners with business and industry, government and non-profit organizations to accomplish research initiatives.

Rowan Innovations, a technology and economic development arm of Rowan University, builds relationships with industry and government agencies seeking technological expertise and is designed to energize and enable university-industry engagement. The South Jersey Technology Park (SJTP) provides flexible work space, fully equipped laboratories, programs and business services, and a connection to Rowan’s pipeline of knowledgeable faculty and students. “Many of our South Jersey Tech Park tenants are from the larger community and they have joined this learning environment because they love the synergy that exists between the tech park and Rowan’s faculty and students,” said Dr. Sukumaran. “Tenants can engage in research jointly with faculty and can employ students as interns in their startup enterprises.” The goal of SJTP is to lead the economic revitalization of Southern New Jersey through an integrated program of science and technology initiatives and establish a technology-based entrepreneurial economy.

Meanwhile, to expand research opportunities and collaborations with various healthcare entities in Camden, Rowan created the Camden Health Research Initiative. This $50 million fund allows the University to expand medical research at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU), in collaboration with the Colleges and Schools of Rowan, and in partnership with Cooper University Health Care/MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, Coriell Institute and other life sciences partners.

Serving the Broader Community

The Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) is committed to providing undergraduate and graduate medical education, research and health care for New Jersey and the nation. “New Jersey has an increasingly aging population,” said Dr. Sukumaran. “Our School of Osteopathic Medicine has a strong focus on geriatric care and engages in research that enhances the well-being of these individuals in our community.”

CMSRU, along with the Coriell Institute for Medical Research and Cooper University Health Care, launched the Camden Opioid Research Initiative (CORI) with research funding from the state of New Jersey. CORI is a first-of-its-kind exploration of the genetic and biological factors that contribute to the development of opioid use disorder. “Rowan aims to be an integral part of addressing the challenges our community faces and helping both through research and outreach,” said Dr. Sukumaran. Capitalizing on Rowan’s reputation for scientific excellence in genetics, the neurosciences and addiction research, CORI will propel New Jersey to the forefront of the effort to treat opioid use disorder.

Research at Rowan is also serving the broader community in other areas. Rowan’s Virtual Reality Center, which includes a custom-designed immersive lab featuring a 7-foot-high by 40-foot-wide curved wall of screens and room for up to 25 people to work together on 3-D applications, supports cutting-edge research to create innovative virtual reality and augmented reality applications.

The Virtual Reality Center will be working to create a segment for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. that will provide an educational, interactive and immersive experience involving Holocaust history.

Preparing the Next Generation

The areas of machine learning, artificial intelligence and data science continue to have a growing demand for qualified practitioners in the workforce and many students are seeking the education necessary to excel in these fields. “Rowan has seen a rapid rise in enrollment in our College of Science and Math and our College of Engineering with our electrical and computer engineering program and computer science program,” said Dr. Sukumaran. “Both departments have received funding from the federal government to enhance graduation fellowships, especially for underrepresented minorities and women in the area of artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

Rowan also has a long-standing collaboration with Lockheed Martin Corporation, an American global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technologies company. “Lockheed Martin employs many of our students either as interns or full-time employees,” said Dr. Sukumaran. Rowan University offers certificate programs in combat systems engineering developed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin. As a result, Dr. Sukumaran said, “The company has said the timeframe to bring new employees up to speed on the skills necessary to meet job requirements is reduced. We send the company around 70 to 80 full-time employees every year.”

Creating Economic Value

Research at Rowan continues to develop new technologies to drive advancements in the fields  of medicine, pharmacy, computing and engineering. “Our research has real life impact,” said Dr. Sukumaran. “Rowan has a very active Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) that works closely with faculty and industry to bridge the gap between the lab and the marketplace.” OTC evaluates the patentability and commercial value of technologies, markets and licenses commercially viable technologies, helps negotiate agreements and manages Rowan’s intellectual property. Overall, OTC is dedicated to creating economic value in the region and supporting state and national economic development.

Meeting Growing Research Needs

As Rowan’s research portfolio and undergraduate population has grown, the university’s digital ecosystem has evolved to meet the increasing and varied demands of the groups it serves.

“Technology is and will continue to be pivotal in supporting and driving the research agenda at Rowan University, as the university’s information technology systems and infrastructure provide the foundation upon which researchers can perform their work,” said Dr. Mira Lalovic- Hand, Senior Vice President of the Division of Information Resources & Technology (IRT) and Chief Information Officer of Rowan University.

Dr. Lalovic-Hand was appointed CIO in 2013, just after Rowan was named a comprehensive research university by New Jersey and as the institution was preparing to launch into a period of rapid growth in enrollment, construction and research. Under the leadership of Dr. Lalovic-Hand, IRT partnered with the university community to identify and implement major system and network enhancements that enabled the growth and expansion that continues at Rowan today.

This work resulted in significant improvements and expansions to Rowan’s network infrastructure, business intelligence and data analytics capabilities, cybersecurity monitoring and training programs, and instructional technology resources and systems, all of which supports the work of researchers at Rowan.

Dr. Lalovic-Hand and Dr. Sukumaran are working together on key areas, such as data management, the research data lifecycle and high-performance computing. This partnership has already ignited collaboration with key stakeholders throughout the university, including the Division of University Research and Rowan University Libraries and IRT.

“I am dedicated to strengthening the University’s technological capabilities in order to meet the unique needs of researchers,” said Dr. Lalovic-Hand, and “this includes positioning the University to manage a growing number of requests while simultaneously enabling researchers to perform a wide variety of activities and staying agile to respond to shifts in demand.”

Engaging Edge to Expand Efforts

Rowan University currently partners with Edge for connectivity and network management and subscribes to the optical fiber network, EdgeNet. Designed to offer Edge institutions a network connectivity experience above and beyond what traditional Internet service providers (ISP) can offer, EdgeNet offers lightning-fast connectivity, WAN & LAN Networking, access to Internet2 and Domain Name System (DNS) Services.

As Dr. Lalovic-Hand plans for the future of research at Rowan from a technological perspective, she expects Rowan’s partnership with Edge to strengthen.

“The growth in research at Rowan University has been exceptional, and our transition from a state teachers college to a Carnegie-designated R2 institution was made easier by our partnerships with organizations like Edge,” said Dr. Lalovic-Hand. “As research at the University continues to expand, we will also be looking to expand our services to ensure high-speed connectivity to regional research networks, Internet2, and the major cloud service providers. I fully expect to lean on Edge to help us in those areas, as Edge has the qualities that we’re looking for in a research support partner.”