Public Affairs

CSU STEM Initiatives Benefit from $62 Million
in Funding from ARRA

Federal 'stimulus' funding fosters brighter futures

The California State University has received $62 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 to support roughly 200 individual projects on 22 campuses, focused primarily on outreach, teaching and research efforts in health, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Combined, three federal agencies accounted for more than 70 percent of the funding:

The ARRA funding augmented more than $300 million of other ongoing federal funding that helps the CSU advance education and research in science and engineering.

Some grants, such as work-study funding, have made immediate, positive and dramatic impacts in students’ lives. Others, including NSF CAREER awards for promising young faculty, will generate waves of benefits that will likely ripple through generations.The ATLAS detector at CERN, shown during installation, is used for particle-physics experiments, including one involving Fresno State researchers. (Photo: CERN)

Some ARRA STEM grants focus on the infinitesimal, such as a Fresno State project that seeks to identify electrons and other elemental particles. Some focus on the intergalactic, such as a CSU Stanislaus project examining the gravitational and quantum-mechanical properties of black holes and related entities. Like countless research efforts throughout the CSU, these projects include research opportunities for undergraduates and outreach to local high schools.

Meanwhile, at San Jose State University, faculty are studying what goes on between the eyes and the brain, specifically how the brain guides eye top-down signals and influences visual perception.

"The breadth and complexity of the ARRA grants awarded to our faculty underscore CSU's vital role in the preparation of students for the workforce in the STEM fields," said Ephraim P. Smith, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer for the CSU.

"At their core,” said Smith, “these awards encourage and prepare high school students for science and technology studies, and they provide undergraduates with vital research experience. The investment in our top-notch faculty allows additional opportunities for them to advance knowledge in their disciplines, and to prepare students for industries critical to our long-term economy."

San Diego State University received approximately $18.2 million in ARRA funding for STEM, followed by San Jose with $7.9 million. Others receiving at least $2 million to date include Monterey Bay ($4.7 million), Fresno ($4.3 million), Los Angeles ($3.5 million), Fullerton ($3.1 million), San Francisco ($3.0 million), Northridge ($2.6 million), Pomona ($2.3 million), Long Beach ($2.3 million) and San Luis Obispo ($2.0 million).


Students, staff and faculty gather in a new biochemistry lab at Cal State L.A. (Photo: Cal State L.A./B.Kane)

Providing an immediate boost, nearly $3 million from the U.S. Department of Education funded additional work-study positions for more than 600 students at 20 CSU campuses.

Recognizing the CSU’s well-established ability to prepare individuals for the workforce complexities in industries that drive California’s knowledge-based economy, the Department of Labor provided roughly $10 million to help the CSU bolster the long-term prospects for economic health through enhanced educational, training and research experiences:

  • $5 million to create a California Statewide Biotechnology Clinical Laboratory Consortium Project. Led by San Jose State University, it will provide training and placement services to help workers pursue careers within the health care and other high-growth and emerging industry sectors, including automotive-related restructuring.

  • Another $4.95 million to create a BRIDGE—the Biotechnology Readiness, Immersion, Certification and Degrees for Gainful Employment program. Led by San Diego State University, this BRIDGE will provide education, training, and placement services to unemployed and dislocated workers in the San Diego region, where the largest and most rapidly growing industry is biotechnology. SDSU is partnering with Miramar Community College, high schools, local military bases (to recruit veterans), and key biotechnology private-sector employers.

Three new science master’s programs, with roughly $700,000 each in funding from NSF, will prepare students for careers in innovative, emerging fields – such as biomedical physics and regulatory affairs (San Diego), renewable energy and water resources (Humboldt), and biotechnology and stem-cell science (San Francisco).

Meanwhile, at Cal State L.A., the long-standing Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement – or RISE – program is developing a Biomedical Boot Camp: a short, intense course on research techniques and instrumentation.


As detailed in the May 2010 report ”Working for California: The Impact of the California State University System,” the CSU has been a consistent supporter of health-care, biomedical and related professions. The CSU graduates 44 percent of all health- or medical-related bachelor’s students in California and 37 percent of all master’s students. More and more are on the way: 33 percent more CSU students are studying biological sciences in 2009 than did in 2003; and 77 percent more CSU students are studying health professions than did in 2003.

Recognizing the impact the CSU has in these fields, the Department of Health and Human Services is supporting 83 CSU grants with ARRA funding, much of it through NIH.

Several intervention projects are engaged on the front lines, working with the medical community to address major public health challenges. One at San Diego State University, for example, is fighting obesity in teenagers by pushing young people toward healthier diets and more activity.

Other efforts are using biotechnology and robotics in research that could lead to new treatments to help injured people gain mobility. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, researchers are examining how artificial cartilage tissue can be improved. At Cal State L.A., robotic assistance will couple with a human touch in efforts to improve locomotor ability for individuals with spinal-cord injuries.


Water. Fire. Land. Air. Life.

Many ARRA STEM grants will help researchers – policymakers, land-use planners, and others – understand the various forces shaping the environment and how to foster more sustainable lifestyles, economies and industries.

Aerial view of irrigated fields in California's delta region. (Photo: Calif. Dept. of Water Resources)For example, with a $1.95 million grant from NASA, CSU Monterey Bay has launched a collaborative project to optimize irrigation. Using wireless sensor networks, satellite data, meteorological observations, resource-modeling, data visualization, geographic information systems and other technologies, the project will produce daily estimates of soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and irrigation demand. The researchers will share the information about current and developing conditions with water districts and agricultural operations to help them make better irrigation decisions – and save water.

Meanwhile, an NSF project at San Jose State University – titled “Earth, Wind, and Fire” – is examining how wind erosion carries dust from burned chaparral landscapes in Southern California. Researchers will gather undisturbed soil samples from hillsides, put them in wind tunnels and subject them to simulated wildfire conditions. A clearer understanding of the wind-carried dust from burned-out slopes may help health officials and others reduce the respiratory harm caused by of these pollutants.

Coordinating with a national Forest Inventory Analysis program, a Department of Agriculture project coordinated by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will assess the health of trees in urban areas throughout the West. By providing estimates of wood volume, cover, diversity and other conditions, it will create a baseline for gauging the forests’ ability to adapt to climate change.


To enhance learning in the science-in-school pipeline, ARRA funds support a variety of strategies that partner CSU campuses with nearby school districts – including nearly $3 million to support two CSU Fullerton projects.

In an existing program, CSU Fullerton math professors work with the Orange County Department of Education to help teachers help their students excel in math – at four high schools, seven middle schools and three continuation high schools.

In a new program, CSU Fullerton is working with local high schools and colleges to boost the ranks of middle- and high-school chemistry and biology teachers by providing 50 scholarships to help prepare talented biology undergraduates to become excellent high school teachers.


Other ARRA funds have bought new tools—such as microscopes, imaging stations, software, and digital cameras to support a CSU Bakersfield program that prepares students for biomedical research.

A new mobile atmospheric profiling system will be coordinated jointly by San Jose State University and San Francisco State University. Called CSU MAPS, the system includes micro-instruments for gathering meteorological data, and a microwave profiler and wind LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). The equipment is mounted on a telescoping 30-foot-tall tower anchored to a trailer that can be towed to field sites. The collected data will support a wide range of research efforts, including prospecting for efficient-wind energy sites, monitoring how the ocean surface interacts with the air above it, and responding to rapidly changing weather and wildfire conditions.

At CSU East Bay, two new femtosecond laser-based spectrometers are giving faculty and students intricately more detailed and precise views of matter. With lasers that repeatedly emit pulses of light lasting in the neighborhood of one-quadrillionth of a second, the spectrometers examine the reactions of atoms and molecules, particularly their energy states and electron dynamics.

A blacklight reveals results of a sample at a genome lab at Cal State L.A.  (Photo: Cal State L.A./B.Kane)


For decades, STEM funding to the CSU from federal agencies has supported an array of innovative research efforts throughout the CSU. The support underscores the understanding that research experiences significantly enhance teaching and learning in science and engineering; and it fosters key partnerships between the CSU and collaborative institutions.

ARRA funding is accelerating the progress and broadening the impacts of these activities. Some of these reinvestments in the CSU’s research efforts may ultimately lead to answers that help treat diseases and assist the disabled.

For example, researchers at CSU Northridge are seeking to develop an environmentally friendly way to synthesize C-aryl glycosides, which have important properties that fight tumors, fungi and microbes. Another ARRA-supported research team runs strands of DNA through nanotube systems, charting their properties, and gaining knowledge that may lead to new types of miniaturized devices with unforeseeable biological and chemical applications.

At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, researchers are examining a marine bacterium called Vibrio fischeri. (It and others in its genus play important roles in various diseases.) Using molecular genetics techniques, six research teams of mostly undergraduate students will construct mutant bacteria, creating a library that will provide an unprecedented view of gene function throughout the genome. This valuable resource will be available publicly for other researchers; and, according to the project’s leader, “The large number of students participating in this project will be well-prepared for science careers in the 21st century.”

California’s economic future, the health of its people, and the quality of its environment are closely linked to the competitiveness of the state’s knowledge-based industries. Nothing is more important in creating a strong foundation for these industries than California’s public university systems; and no institution provides more well-educated, job-ready graduates to these critical industries than does The California State University.

As reported in the March 2010 Working for California report, for every dollar the state invests in the university, the impact of CSU-related expenditures alone creates $5.43 in total spending impact. When the impact of the enhanced earnings of CSU graduates is included, the ratio rises to $23 in total spending impact for every dollar the state invests in the CSU.

Thus, the $62 million in ARRA funding to support students and faculty advancing STEM has significant impacts far beyond the campuses to which it has been awarded – and not only economic impacts. By discovering new knowledge, developing new technologies, and applying both to some of the California’s greatest challenges, the STEM community in the CSU plays a critical role in the state’s—and ultimately, the planet’s—well-being and sustainability.