NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University has announced the 2023 recipients of grants issued through its Center for Applied Research and Rural Innovation.

The center’s steering committee selected nine proposals with awards totaling more than $280,000. Now in its second year, the CARRI grant program is part of SFA’s effort to support innovation and entrepreneurship in the university’s 12-county coverage region. 

“The faculty research grants provide an opportunity for faculty and students to engage with the local community in a variety of ways,” said Mary Ann Rojas, CARRI’s executive director. “The applications were selected through a competitive process, and each applicant demonstrated economic impact, measurable outcomes and student engagement.”

The 2023 grant recipients and their research are as follows:

Dr. David Kulhavy — Forestry and Spatial Science, Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture - $19,490

Meeting the Demands of Unmanned Aerial Systems and Use in East Texas

The use of unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones, is increasing in society with over 100,000 drone pilots needed in the $63.5 billion marketplace by 2025. Funds will go toward a workshop on emergency management and campus maintenance with area agencies that will promote current uses, training and technology. It will focus on the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, DJI Phantom RTK Multispectral, DJI Dual Enterprise Thermal and the new Quantum-Systems vertical takeoff drone.

Dr. Jared Barnes — Department of Agriculture, College of Forestry and Agriculture - $32,964

A Sustainable Plant Trial Garden for the Plantery Student Botanic Garden

Diversity among and within plants is a cornerstone of horticulture. However, with great diversity comes the need for stakeholders to know how plants are going to perform in a region for sustainable planting decisions. The Plantery is the student botanic garden on campus, and we wish to build a trial garden for evaluating plant material for East Texas. Permanent, modern infrastructure will be installed to make the trial garden attractive and functional. 

Amanda Breitbach — School of Art, Micky Elliott College of Fine Arts - $16,400

Tourism and Education, The Cole Art Center @ The Old Opera House 

The Cole Art Center is an important source of culture and community in East Texas and a valuable economic engine for downtown Nacogdoches. It is also at the heart of transformational experiences for School of Art students, who learn practical skills while working there. Project funds will be used to develop a new student docent program, pay student workers, fund a graduate assistantship for an events planner, establish local and regional partnerships through First Friday events, and assess the economic impact of the arts in Nacogdoches.

Dr. Mikhail Kouliavtsev — Department of Economics and Finance, Nelson Rusche College of Business - $23,660

Economic Contribution of CARRI

The goal of this project is to establish and maintain a set of metrics enabling the Center for Applied Research and Rural Innovation staff members to measure the economic contribution of the center’s activities to the region. Data collected from various government agencies as well as local sources will be compiled into a dashboard, which can subsequently be used to assess and measure the benefits of CARRI and its impact on the local area. Support for undergraduate students will ensure that they can provide services as interns to smaller communities where local officials may not be able to afford a paid intern.

Dr. Bill Forbes — Department of Anthropology, Geography and Sociology; College of Liberal and Applied Arts - $20,860

Solar Weatherization Business, Workforce and Student Support

Sustainability students used a matching CARRI grant in 2022 to conduct energy program outreach in deep East Texas. They built contacts and collected information related to renewable energy incentives, low-income weatherization programs and potential partners. This proposal continues that work by offering support for potential businesses and workforce members interested in apprenticeships and training, and for a graduate student who gathered the most valuable information on weatherization workforce training last year.

Dr. Jane Long — Department of Mathematics and Statistics, College of Sciences and Mathematics - $39,142

Laboratory Science Enrichment for Secondary Teachers

A thriving deep East Texas requires a workforce of highly trained science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals. Investment in teachers is a well-documented best practice for improving student academic achievement and increasing student engagement in STEM fields. This project focuses on enhancing student interest in STEM subjects through weeklong workshops that train secondary public-school teachers to incorporate engaging, inquiry-based, hands-on laboratory experiences in their science classrooms.

Dr. Kefa Onchoke — Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Sciences and Mathematics - $21,050

Studies of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Sulfonate Pollutants in Biosolids

Biosolids, also known as wastewater sludge, are produced by wastewater treatment plants. They are complex and contain organic matter, plant macro/micronutrients, trace and heavy metals, and emerging pollutants, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals in trace levels and per- and polyfluoroalkyl sulfonates, or PFAS. This study will analyze PFAS concentrations in biosolids and wastewater samples from the Nacogdoches Wastewater Treatment Plant via ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography-quadrupole mass spectrometry and gas chromatography.

Dr. Gina Fe Causin — School of Human Sciences, James I. Perkins College of Education - $22,724

Convening the Deep East Texas Forest Country Tourism Collective

In May 2022, chambers of commerce and convention and visitors’ bureaus from 12 deep East Texas counties, the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, cities, tourism centers, the Texas Travel Alliance, Texas Economic Development and the Texas Forest Trail convened to form the Deep East Texas Forest Country Tourism Collective. They created unique travel and tourism experiences that could fuel economic activities across their boundaries. Representatives discovered other issues and gaps to address to enhance and stabilize the economic development in the area. This proposal will assist in continuing the collective’s work.

Sally Ann Swearingen — School of Human Sciences, Perkins College of Education - $86,918

Building Communities One Building at a Time with Construction Jacks

The purpose of this project is to bring agencies, community and manufacturers together to assist with people who are homeless. This proposal contains two goals. The first is to build tiny homes for individuals and families in need of shelter with the help of construction management and interior design students to design, build and furnish the homes. The second is to bring community companies, such as lumber mills, nonprofit organizations, showrooms and federal agencies, together to assist with partial funding of the homes.

For a full description of the grant awards, visit