F&M launches crowdfunding to support professors’ research

By Danae Diaz, Contributing Writer ||

In June, F&M started a pilot program to use crowdfunding, or social media, to raise money online through public donations in order to bolster academic and institutional support.

Global applications for crowd funding expand from personal uses such as buying objects like coolers or food, to funding for educational purposes and experimental research.

Although crowdfunding has been around for quite some time, it has recently reached a whole new level of recognition, especially at F&M.

For F&M in particular, crowdfunding serves as a tool for professors to raise additional funds for experimental research from a broader group of people. The fundraising is open to the public for anyone who wants to assist.

There are various websites through which crowdfunding occurs, including kickstarter.com, indiegogo.com, and experiment.com.

“With web platforms like kickstarter and indiegogo continuing to be popular ways for entrepreneurial people to seek money (usually larger numbers of smaller gifts) for innovative projects, it should not be surprising that colleges and universities are starting to examine the strategy for on-campus projects” said Ryan Sauder, senior director of College grants.

Crowdfunding was introduced to F&M when Sonja Schwake, former visiting assistant professor of anthropology, initiated a pilot program, which provided for City Growth and Trade at the Ancient Maya Site of Alabama in Belize. Schwake was able to reach 114 percent of her goal, as shown on her experiment.com project page. Her successes proved how useful crowdfunding can be, which encouraged other professors on campus to become involved with the program, as well.

Fronefield Crawford, associate professor of astronomy, is currently using experiment.com for his educational project. The funds will be applied to building an observatory for a school in Ghana. The school is one with which F&M has a close relationship; founder Kwesi Koomson is an alumnus of the class of 1997.

“Every year, F&M students go visit to teach or perform service at the school, and this observatory would serve to further assist the school, providing a means for the students to learn about the
sciences,” Crawford said.

Crawford’s project has raised two percent of his funds thus far. With sites like experiment.com, individuals can acquire large sums of their goal in just a few days under the right conditions. Crawford, however, is also planning on acquiring funding for his astronomy research from outside sources because many crowdfunding sites are more suitable to raising smaller amounts of money than his project requires.

Other professors whose projects can be found on experiment.com include: Allison Troy, assistant professor of psychology, whose research is in finding if politics are inherently emotional, and Stephen Medvic, professor of government, whose goal will go towards discovering what American citizens expect of democracy.

Experiment.com insitutes a period of 40 days, over which a researcher must reach his or her set goal.

Various professors’ fundraising period has only begun. Sybil Gotsch, assistant professor of biology, has reached 97 percent of her goal for her Tree Climbing for Climate Change Research project and still has 30 days to go.

Ashley Rondini, visiting assistant professor of sociology, has 36 days left and has already raised 40 percent towards implementing equity on sexual assault and civil rights on campus. Tim Bechtel, visiting professor of geosciences, and Nico Goldscheider, professor of hydrogeology at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, are a few days in and have already made six percent of the funds for their research on how alpine groundwater gets from mountaintops to valley springs.

One of the benefits for many donors of experiment.com is that, if the goal is not reached, they do not have to pay; all the funds are returned as a part of what is referred to as an all-or-nothing policy.

Crowdfunding provides a way for outside sources, or the public, to provide funding as much or as little as they like to help professors or students reach their goals. Crowdfunding does however require a five percent flat fee and a three percent card-processing fee to accept donations, which only applies if the goal is actually reached.

Other than those looking to start a project, crowdfunding also serves as a way for individuals to fill gaps they have in their current projects, gaps which grants or institutional funding has yet to provide for.

Some concerns do arise about whether or not this kind of funding could take away from institutional funding or grants professors may receive.

However, this is not necessarily true, as seeing success through this funding may actually put F&M research on the map, making funding from even larger institutions such as the National Science Foundation seem more like a reality.

First-year Danae Diaz is a contributing writer. Her email is ddiaz@fandm.edu.

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