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Goodnight Early Career Innovators Award retains a new generation of leaders

NC State flag outside of Hunt Library

Recruiting and retaining top faculty is a priority for every leading university. While endowed, named professorships provide a vehicle for rewarding a long-term body of work, finding ways to recognize more junior faculty members is equally important, as such recognition opportunities demonstrate a university’s commitment to early-career scholarship.

These early years are critical — this is when faculty are developing their research, teaching and engagement programs and setting the stage for their future ambitions. 

“However, this time is also when faculty are most likely to leave for other opportunities,” explained NC State’s Rob Dunn, Reynolds Professor in the Department of Applied Ecology and senior vice provost for university interdisciplinary programs. Funding and other avenues for growth can be deciding factors.

NC State has made strides in creating recognition opportunities for early- to mid-career faculty in recent years, including the launch of the University Faculty Scholars program in 2012. 

In 2021, with the partnership of Dr. Jim and Mrs. Ann Goodnight, the university deepened its investment in future academic leaders with the creation of the Goodnight Early Career Innovators award, which has created an extraordinary impact in just three years.

“The Goodnight Early Career Innovators fuel the evolution of their fields and undertake vital research that benefits our community, state and world,” said Chancellor Randy Woodson. “These faculty are truly shaping the future, and by investing in their success, so are the Goodnights. We are truly grateful for their leadership, generosity and all they have made possible through this award.”

The award grants early-career faculty in STEM or STEM education $22,000 annually for three years in support of their research efforts. Such funding makes it possible for faculty to pursue new lines of inquiry or hire undergraduate and graduate researchers in their labs — influencing the next generation of scholars. The award allows scholars to embark on bolder projects than might otherwise be possible, allowing more freedom to experiment and collaborate across disciplines.

“A program like the Goodnight Early Career Innovators fulfills our land-grant mission and increases our profile as one of the nation’s top Research-1 universities,” said Katharine Stewart, senior vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. 

“By emphasizing early-career faculty, this program gives newer faculty a chance to jumpstart their research and take on challenging or innovative approaches they otherwise would be unable to do.”

And it has also helped keep outstanding scholars at NC State. Since the initiative’s inception, the Goodnight Early Career Innovators award has benefited 74 faculty members at the assistant professor level across three cohorts, all but one of whom are still at the university.

“This 99% retention rate is an incredible point of pride and a testament to how vital the Goodnights’ investment has been,”  said Brian Sischo, vice chancellor for university advancement. 

In their time at NC State, the 74 Goodnight Early Career Innovators have advanced their fields significantly with active scholarship that includes:

  • Nearly 3,000 articles
  • 64 awards
  • 6 books
  • 56 book chapters
  • 40 patents
  • 219 grants totaling more than $137 million

“The three cohorts have made an overwhelmingly positive impact on the university community through the generosity of the Goodnights,” said Stewart. “Each faculty member, having been nominated by their colleges and selected by a committee of distinguished faculty, is a leader among their peers at NC State and within their respective disciplines.”

Many Goodnight Early Career Innovators also help lead NC State’s interdisciplinary research. Adriana San Miguel, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was part of the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program (CFEP) cluster hires in synthetic and systems biology. 

“The Goodnight Early Career Innovators program and other programs at NC State, like CFEP, greatly facilitate interactions with peers at our institution, making collaborations and interdisciplinary work very accessible,” she said. 

San Miguel uses innovative engineering and systems approaches to study basic biology, specifically the C. elegans organism which is used as a model organism for studying human disease. The Goodnight Early Career Innovators award has enabled her to pursue new and higher-risk directions in her research. 

“Supporting an early career scholar, such as San Miguel, who is also working in ways that transcend disciplines, allows NC State to reward disruptive research,” said Dunn, who also oversees the CFEP. “This has become ever too rare in academia.”

As NC State continues to strengthen its reputation as a comprehensive research powerhouse, this kind of disruptive work — and supporting those who undertake it — is all the more important. 

“I believe investing in faculty throughout their career is crucial and ensures we have quality research and excellence in teaching by providing support and recognition that are very motivating,” San Miguel said. 

And thanks to the Goodnight Early Career Innovators award, more and more young faculty are motivated to continue calling NC State home.

About the Goodnights

Dr. James and Mrs. Ann Goodnight are NC State alumni. Dr. Goodnight – the CEO and founder of SAS – earned his B.S. in applied mathematics in 1965, his M.S. and doctorate in statistics in 1968 and 1972, respectively, and the university conferred an honorary degree to him in 2002. Mrs. Goodnight earned her B.A. in political science in 1968 and works as the senior director of community relations at SAS. The Goodnights have received numerous university honors, including the Watauga Medal (Dr. Goodnight, 2002) and the Menscer Cup (2007). Mrs. Goodnight’s leadership roles include serving on the Board of Trustees and as a founding member of Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy at NC State. 

The Goodnights support up to 350 North Carolina students each year through the Goodnight Scholarships program, which they established in 2008 and expanded in 2017 to include transfer students from the state’s community colleges. The Goodnights also have generously strengthened centers, programs and additional scholarship opportunities across NC State. Their commitment to faculty excellence has resulted in the creation of named faculty positions, including a deanship, as well as a program to invest in early-career faculty and support for additional endowed professorship funds. In 2022, the Goodnights increased their support to include graduate students, creating the Goodnight Doctoral Fellows for Ph.D. candidates in STEM and education.

This post was originally published in Giving News.