FAYETTEVILLE -- A $23.7 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation to boost research and commercialization efforts at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville includes money "to attract five 'star' scientists," according to a gift agreement between the foundation and the university.
University leaders described the five-year grant -- announced Friday to include $5 million in support of faculty hiring, with the rest going to various support initiatives for researchers -- as providing a lift to state economic-development efforts.
"It's not just the researchers at the university that will benefit from this, citizens across Arkansas and beyond will benefit because this will help us increase the university's economic and social impact on the state," Stacy Leeds, UA's vice chancellor for economic development, said in a statement.
Out of the total, $5 million will support faculty hires in what UA is calling "signature research areas," according to the university's announcement.
Leeds said faculty members and administrators "have been working on the signature research areas and the details are being refined and will be deployed soon, likely in the spring semester."
The university recently hired a new top research officer, Daniel Sui, who began Oct. 1 as the university's vice chancellor for research and innovation. Leeds said Sui is leading the effort on identifying the priority research areas.
The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, established by the family of Walmart founder Sam Walton, has previously given millions in support to UA, including a $120 million gift announced last year supporting arts education and a $300 million gift announced in 2002, at the time considered the biggest donation in support of a public university.
Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation gift agreement with University of Arkansas, FayettevilleView
"Universities are powerful engines in driving regional and national economies. There is even more potential for our universities to accelerate economic growth and development," Jim Walton said in a statement released by UA.
The gift agreement, released by the university under the state's public-disclosure law, includes a separate "grant reporting metrics document" that provides more information about new faculty hiring expected to be completed "by the end of 2023."
"Investing in bringing individuals to the University of Arkansas who have an outstanding, innovative, and collaborative research program aligned in these signature areas is a key strategy to building the research engine resulting in successful outcomes and intellectual property," the document states.
The document lists six "preferred qualifications," including "outstanding productivity in research outputs" such as publications and patents, and being a "senior or mid-career faculty member recognized as a leader or rising-leader" in a field that's part of a "signature research area."
The university announced that $5 million of the gift will go toward research with potential for commercialization.
"Research with commercialization potential is the type of research that will likely lead to intellectual property protection for the inventor and for the University," Leeds explained. "The typical path is that the research leads to an invention disclosure and then a decision is made whether to move forward with seeking a patent."
A patent would then lead to "technology [that] can be licensed, either to a startup company or to an existing company," Leeds said, with the company then taking the invention to market.
Other parts of the gift, as announced by the university, include $3.6 million going to help UA's Technology Ventures, which helps faculty members protect and develop intellectual property, and $2 million to assist Sui with various new initiatives.
Another $2 million will help with economic development "strategic initiatives, operations and programs" under Leeds. Grant dollars totaling $2 million will help with "gap" funding to help researchers make it to commercialization.
Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, in a statement, said a university seeking to "inspire" commercialization "must provide a culture of innovation, a broad spectrum of partnerships across the region and around the country, and targeted financial investments."
Robert Litan, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in an email said universities "vary widely in their abilities to help their scholars commercialize their innovations."
"Hopefully, the Walton gift will assist the University of Arkansas and its faculty bring more ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace. The country needs as much of this kind of activity as it can get," Litan said.
The gift pushes fundraising as part of the university's Campaign Arkansas to more than $1 billion, UA announced. The campaign runs through June 2020 and has a goal to raise $1.25 billion.
A Section on 11/10/2018
Print Headline: Waltons donate $23.7M to foster research at University of Arkansas