N.C. A&T Professors Receive TMCF Medtronic Research & Development Program Award

By East L Dockery / 10/26/2023 College of Business and Economics, College of Engineering, College of Health and Human Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Oct. 26, 2023) – Three North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University professors have been selected as recipients of the 2023-24 Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) Medtronic Research & Development Program Award.

Laquanda Johnson, Ph.D., MBA, associate professor of supply chain management; Stephen Knisley, Ph.D., professor of chemical biological and bioengineering; and Ali Salman, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Nursing each received a grant through the program, which supports innovation, ideas and solutions in STEM, medical technology and business research at select historically Black colleges and universities. 

The program awards five grants of $40,000, in two $20,000 disbursements, to faculty members at its TMCF member schools with a focus in:

  • Innovative academic support programs that will meet the specific academic needs of STEM, medical technology and/or business students.
  • Enhanced academic-related innovation on campus and/or the community to support adequate resources to enable the completion of groundbreaking research and development in STEM, medical technology and/or business.
  • Other creative ideas for capacity building with Medtronic-aligned fields.

Johnson, who teaches in the Willie A. Deese College of Business and Education, will use her grant to fund the Collegiate Underrepresented Business and Engineering Drone Training Intensive Program, an eight-week virtual drone intensive camp for undergraduate students. Upon completion of the eight-week program, students will take their FAA remote pilot certification exam.

“The $40,000 will fund the work that will take place – from the researchers, travel to conferences, and exam fees for all of the students. Those are the direct costs,” said Johnson. “The goal at the end of this program is to show that it was a success and that students found value in it which will then allow me to be able to secure additional funding as the principal investigator so that students can achieve all three levels of their certification.”

Johnson and her team are preparing to submit for an NSF grant that will fund the next two levels so that students will not only have their remote pilot certification, but also their level one and level two certification within drone technology.

“We definitely feel like it’s a great opportunity for students to advance their skill set, their analytical toolbox and make them again more marketable when they're going out into their respective career fields,” she said.

The program is geared toward students who are studying supply chain management, business analytics, industrial engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, or mechanical engineering.

“We’re trying to get as many students as we can on board with this particular proposal,” said Johnson. “We will only be able to accommodate a select number of students but if there are students that are interested, they could definitely send me an email and we could talk further.”

Knisley, who teaches in the College of Engineering, will use his grant to fund the National Institutes of Health Houston Shadowing Program, a bio-engineering initiative for junior-level students to help prepare them for their senior design course. A select number of juniors in the bio-engineering bachelor’s program will travel to visit a hospital in Houston in the summer of 2024 and spend several weeks there shadowing doctors.

“That particular hospital has engineering-oriented physicians partly because they have a nice graduate program related to engineering and medicine,” said Knisley. “We’re still making the arrangements for housing, but it looks like they’ll be staying in dorms at Rice University campus nearby to the hospital and then they will spend their time with the doctors as they perform their medical care in the hospital observing the procedures that they have.”

The grant will cover travel expenses, cost of living and stipends for students while they are in the program, when they will observe problems, they can solve with a new design.

“They will bring that information back, and when fall starts for their senior year they’ll present their observations to the entire design class,” said Knisley. “That way the other students who don’t get to go will learn about it. They will form teams together with those who went on the shadowing experience and each team will then work for a year to design a solution to the problem that they observed.”

Salman, who teaches in the John R. and Kathy R. Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences, will use the grant to fund the Smart and Connected Health Teaching and Research Lab.

“The funding will be used to leverage recent artificial intelligence and Internet-of-Things technology advancements to drive interdisciplinary innovation, education, and research in health sciences and technology for the benefit of students, faculty, and the Greensboro community,” said Salman. “Undergraduate students will boost their learning and graduate students involved in the project will have opportunities to collect data, collaborate, develop new and novel methods, and publish their work.”

The Smart and Connected Health Teaching and Research Lab will be available to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty. Its goal is to create efficiency and quality in underrepresented communities’ health care.

“The project is a cornerstone to develop a technology-driven curriculum to educate the next generation of health care professionals at A&T and extend it to other universities and Guilford County Schools, the third largest k-12 school district in North Carolina,” said Salman. “Throughout its lifespan, this project is proposed to enhance interdisciplinary education and research among health sciences, engineering, science and technology, business and design, and many more.”

The grant will also allow for further advancement of the Smart and Connected Health Teaching and Research Lab.

“It will get the project on a path to apply for larger grants and contribute to the advancement of underrepresented communities’ health,” said Salman.

Medtronic is the sole funder of these grants, which are the latest results of a strategic partnership with TMCF to advance diversity in STEM education and career development.

“Supporting HBCUs through the R&D Engagement Program expands access to opportunities and skill-building to students from diverse backgrounds,” said Cynthia Reese, Medtronic director of external partnerships and community. “Medtronic is proud to partner with TMCF on this impactful program, as part of its commitment to achieving zero barriers to equity.”

Media Contact Information: eldockery@ncat.edu

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