Georgia Tech Hosts Forum to Develop Research Partnerships Between HBCUs and Industry

Dietra Trent — executive director of White House Initiatives on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through HBCUs — gave the morning keynote on day one.

Workforce diversity is imperative for innovative science and technology. Yet due to funding inequities, research infrastructure isn’t as robust at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), making building a diverse workforce pipeline and inclusive research collaborations challenging. With its Research Collaboration Initiative (RCI), the Georgia Institute of Technology is building MSI partnerships and recently hosted its first research collaboration forum (RCF) specifically to develop these relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Nearly 170 attendees from government, industry, national labs, and other universities gathered on the Georgia Tech campus Nov. 7 – 8. The research forum featured keynotes, panels, and breakout sessions divided by research area to develop the partnerships necessary for meaningful collaboration.

Dietra Trent — executive director of White House Initiatives on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through HBCUs — gave the morning keynote.

“Research shaped by diverse experience and cultures will reduce the risk of bias and create significant opportunities for all our universities,” she said. “This collaboration represents one of the best ways to build a scholarly community. It’s the partnership our HBCUs need — not a handout but a hand up.”

Day one of the RCF featured keynotes talks from Senior Advisor Terrence Mosely of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Thyaga Nandagopal, director of the Division of Innovation and Technology Ecosystems in Tech, Innovation, and Partnerships.

The second day featured a keynote from Victoria Coleman, who currently serves as the chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force and was past director of the Defense Research Projects Agency. Coleman was instrumental in creating the first HBCU-led University Affiliated Research Center in Tactical Autonomy.

Keynotes from Kylie Patterson, director of opportunity and inclusion from, and Annette Owens-Scarsboro, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) institution program manager for HBCUs and MSIs, rounded out the second day.

Panels about funding priorities for the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Commerce, NIH, and the Department of Defense offered attendees compelling federal research opportunities. In breakout sessions, attendees gathered to ideate and team build within their respective research disciplines, which included everything from climate resiliency to artificial intelligence.

“We’re looking at these breakout sessions as an opportunity to develop long-term, sustainable collaborations and partnerships between our respective institutions,” said George White, senior director for strategic partnerships in the Office of the Vice President for Interdisciplinary Research and principal research engineer at Georgia Tech. “We believe this is an enduring model that can grow well beyond Georgia Tech. The ability to seed research projects and capacity building makes this a very unique opportunity.”

Throughout the forum, there were multiple opportunities to network and build more casual partnerships.

“The goal is to exchange ideas, meet one another, and identify areas of collaborative synergy,” said Taiesha Smith, senior program manager of HBCU/MSI Research Partnerships at Georgia Tech.

Inclusivity Imperative to Research Next

The RC is just one of the projects of Research Next. Executive Vice President for Research Chaouki T. Abdallah launched the research enterprise’s planning initiative in 2020, and creating inclusive research collaborations is its third phase.

“We believe that in order to develop lasting solutions for the problems facing humanity, we need as many perspectives as possible,” he said. “We need more original ideas, the kind of ideas born from having diverse communities to not just make the solutions but to ask the right questions.”

The event was one of Georgia Tech’s many efforts in this area. The team created a software tool, CollabNext, where researchers can find partners at HBCUs with similar disciplines and interests. They also developed a memorandum of understanding for a semiconductor research initiative with HBCU/MSIs. Even the Georgia Tech Research Institute is involved, developing the Defense-University Affiliated Research Traineeship to give HBCU students opportunities in the Department of Defense.

“This event will energize and identify opportunities from companies and the federal government to make sure HBCU and MCIS can compete for the funding,” Abdallah said, “because they have built the infrastructure to conduct this research.”

Related News: Collaboration in Action


Tess Malone, Senior Research Writer/Editor