Emerging Technology Fund grant will make Texas State a national leader in multifunctional materials By Mary-Love Bigony, University Marketing
Dr. Bill Covington knows what it’s like to be a university professor spending more time seeking funding for research than actually conducting research. Covington, who is Texas State’s vice president for research and federal relations, was a physics professor at Sam Houston State University in the 1980s. “A lot of us, including myself, complained that there was no administrative support for researchers,” he says.
For the past nine years, Covington has helped make it easier for Texas State faculty to perform cutting-edge research that will improve the environment, create jobs and keep Texans safe. Under his leadership Texas State’s sponsored program expenditures have more than quadrupled, growing from $6 million to $26 million.
Covington’s latest accomplishment was working with a faculty team to acquire a $4 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. Announced in late 2008, the grant will be used to operate and staff a newly established center for the research, development and commercialization of multifunctional materials.
“The Emerging Technology Fund was set up four years ago by the governor’s office as a way of stimulating the economy,” Covington says. “Commercialization is the major focus of the ETF program.”
Creating Jobs The $4 million ETF grant actually puts $12 million at Texas State’s disposal for the commercialization effort. “We asked the state for $4 million; we had to put up $4 million, and we had to have $4 million from industry,” Covington says. “We were fortunate that Freescale provided us $4.5 million in extremely high-end equipment.”
Covington explains that the goal of commercialization is to create jobs. “ We want companies that hire people to be started or move into the state. The state is looking for job development, job growth. And that’s why we’ve created the Center for Research Commercialization that Dr. Terry Golding is going to head.”
Golding says the grant will allow Texas State to build on its existing research capabilities. “We will be able to rapidly acquire nationally renowned faculty in science, technology and engineering,” he says. “These faculty will not only continue to expand and enhance Texas State’s research profile, they will also interface with industry and provide Texas State students with the most technologically relevant education possible.”
Supporting Research Covington took on the role of helping faculty achieve their goals before he left Sam Houston State. “The reason I decided to leave physics and go into administration,” he says, “was that I had walked the path of all the difficulties that a faculty member has in writing proposals and getting them out the door, all the frustration when there is not an infrastructure in place to support you, and I wanted to do what I could to improve the process.”
The year Covington was promoted to chair of the physics department at Sam Houston, the university created an office of research administration. “They did a national search for the position, and I ended up with it,” he says. “I’d been on the other side, so I knew how to set up an office to make it work for the faculty.”
After eight years in that position Covington took a leave of absence and joined SEMATECH in Austin. In 1999 he accepted the position at Texas State.
These days he travels frequently to Washington, D.C., to represent the university. “I spend a lot of time walking the halls of Congress, and providing information to the Texas delegation,” he says. “I also spend some time meeting with agency people like the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense, pushing and promoting Texas State. But most of my time is spent working with congressional staff — letting them know what we’re doing.”
A Bright Future Covington wants people to see Texas State as an emergent research university. “When people think of Texas State, I want them to think of us as a very high quality academic institution,” he says. “We have a very good reputation in terms of classroom instruction; I want us to have a reputation now in the research arena.”
He says the ETF grant will be used to grow the university’s materials science and engineering program. “In particular it’s for multifunctional materials,” he says. “That’s a new buzzword for one chip that can do multiple functions. We’re going to be figuring out how to commercialize technology, how to work with companies, how to grow companies, to create jobs.”
Covington’s office has a Web site where faculty can go to find out how to write proposals and find forms and regulations. “About two years ago we created the Office of Proposal Development,” he says. “Their sole purpose is to make faculty aware of where there is funding, help them put collaborations together, help them formulate proposals. The last thing we want to do is frustrate the faculty by telling them, ‘These are our expectations of you,’ but then not being able to deliver on our support of their efforts.”
Faculty researchers appreciate Covington’s work. “Dr. Covington and the office he has assembled have been responsible for the tremendous gains Texas State is enjoying and will continue to enjoy in its enhanced external research funding profile,” says Dr. Terry Golding. “Dr. Covington’s vision has been instrumental in laying the foundations for a world-class research capability. We have seen a lot of results already, and thanks to Dr. Covington there is much more to come.”