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September 06, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Tennessee Tech sets all-time record for externally funded research

The university secured more than $36.3 million in external research funding for the fiscal year ending June 30, supported by 167 sponsored research activations that span across Tech’s academic departments, colleges, and schools.

Tennessee Tech University (Tech) announced an all-time record for externally funded research in fiscal year 2023, surpassing its previous record by nearly $13 million and reaffirming Tech’s status as a high research activity university.

The university secured more than $36.3 million in external research funding for the fiscal year ending June 30, supported by 167 sponsored research activations that span across Tech’s academic departments, colleges, and schools. The total represents an increase of more than 50% from 2022 and advances Tech’s goal of securing $40 million in annual externally funded research by 2025.

“This is a proud moment in the history of Tennessee Tech. With this record-setting total, we are demonstrating the culture of innovation, discovery, and academic rigor that has always been part of Tech’s story,” said Tech President Phil Oldham, pictured above. “Our rapidly expanding research capacity is the driving force behind Tech’s economic impact, which topped $1.52 billion statewide in the last non-pandemic year. This achievement is only made possible by Tech’s dedicated faculty, staff, and students. We look forward to celebrating together as a campus community in the days ahead.”

The top funding agencies for the year were the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Education, and the State of Tennessee. U.S. Department of Education funding included research dollars for Tech’s forthcoming nuclear engineering program, set to launch in fall 2024.

Research funding also came from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and private industry support.

For the 2023 fiscal year, 38 faculty members obtained funding of more than $100,000 each and will be inducted into the Wings Up 100, a group that recognizes researchers who have more than $100,000 in external funding in a given year.

“There has never been a year where we’ve seen this kind of growth,” said Carl A. Pinkert, Ph.D., Interim Vice President for Research at Tech. “President Oldham issued a challenge to our faculty to grow our research capacity here at Tech. The faculty took it to heart and truly upped our game as far as proposals going out the door and the opportunities we pursued.”

Pinkert called the historic research totals “a testament to what Tech can provide and the quality of the educational programs that we offer.”

Tech’s record-breaking research haul comes as Pinkert’s time as interim vice president for research at Tech draws to a close. Pinkert answered a call to serve at Tech on an interim basis after a career that included service as Vice President for Research and Economic Development at the University of Alabama and Associate Vice President for Research at Auburn University.

Pinkert is slated to depart his role on September 30. Tech is in the final stages of a nationwide search for a permanent vice president for research.

“It has been a revelation,” said Pinkert of his time at Tech. “So many people came together. Everyone has a passion for where Tech is going, and I think that is a reflection of the leadership at this institution. You’ve got people who care – that’s what I have seen here.”

Tech is recognized as an R2 doctoral, high-research activity university by the Carnegie national classification system. In recent months, the university has profiled key research projects across campus including a U.S. Department of Energy grant for clean energy research led by Professors Jiahong Zhu and Ying Zhang, a NASA partnership to explore zero-emission air travel led by Associate Professor Rory Roberts, an electric vehicle grant secured by Associate Professor Pingen Chen, research on the environmental landscape of ancient eastern Africa co-led by Assistant Professor Lauren Michel, and others.

“This new year that we just started is going to be a great year, as will the years to come. I’m excited for Tech,” concluded Pinkert. “The passion that everyone has at this institution is amazing. Those are the people I want to recognize and pay tribute.”

Learn more about research at Tech by visiting

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