NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University has announced the 2024 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 $215,000. Now in its third 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 2024 grant recipients and their research are as follows:

Dr. David Kulhavy — Forestry and Spatial Science, Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture - $17,138
“Meeting the Demands of Unmanned Aerial Systems and Use in East Texas”

As of January 2023, there were 871,000 unmanned aerial systems, or drones, registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and 307,000 certified pilots. More than an estimated 100,000 UAS pilots will be needed in the $63.5 billion marketplace by 2025. SFA’s UAS program is well-placed to provide pilot training as well as hands-on experience for students and professionals. Funds will support ongoing projects with SFA’s University Police Department and Emergency Management, as well as providing information on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s documentation on campus losses to storms. Tree hazard rating also is ongoing with the SFA Physical Plant. Four referred publications were published with three more submitted, among other projects, like pilot licensure. The use of UAS orthomosaics for planning and mapping will be added to upcoming UAS and GIS days planned for the East Texas area.

Dr. Bidisha Sengupta — Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Sciences and Mathematics - $32,510
“Using nanotechnology in the detection of microbial biofilm in municipal wastewater in East Texas, USA”

Biofilm-forming pathogenic microbes are notorious in creating chronic infections, loss of host immune responses and death in humans due to their resistance against antimicrobial agents/pathogen killers. The United States Environmental Protection Agency stringently regulates municipal wastewater treatment plants for removal of pollutants to levels below recommended World Health organization or local environmental quality guidelines. Sengupta proposed a novel method of using long-chain DNA aptamer as scaffold to produce silver nanoclusters that can prevent biofilm in treated wastewater. Therefore, this study will be very beneficial in public health related industries, including biotech and environmental agencies.

Dr. Bill Forbes — Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture - $12,000
“Enhancing Sustainable Food Systems and Regenerative Farming in East Texas”

Forbes proposed thesis research on methods to help entrepreneurs start up and scale up their regenerative farm operations in East Texas. His team will compile a list of existing contacts in Texas with expertise on small-scale sustainable/regenerative agriculture and food systems, including practitioners, academics and organization leaders, which will be complemented by literature review of key sources on the topic. Open-ended interviews and surveys will be conducted to address questions concerning pathways and barriers to start-up/scale-up in regenerative agriculture and food supply.

Dr. Andrew King and Dr. David Creech — SFA Gardens, Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture - $21,820
“The Deep East Texas Annual and Perennial Plant Trials”

King and Creech proposed the installation of an annual and perennial plant trialing facility on the CARRI property on Stallings Drive. Each year, 10 to 15 companies in the U.S. release new varieties of popular plants that require trialing, preferably by reputable independent sources. Many of these companies will seek to trial plant material that hasn’t yet been granted patent status, meaning trial sites must be fenced and secure. The CARRI property is an ideal location for such a site due to the rich but well-drained soils and distance from the highway. The trials will feature 200-300 varieties of annuals and perennials grown throughout the spring and summer culminating in a field day for East Texas green industry professionals and hobbyists alike to witness the performance of these new materials in our region.

Dr. Matibur Zamadar — Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Sciences and Mathematics - $34,360
“Development of Chemotherapeutic, Tin(IV) Porphyrin-Cobalt(III) Prodrug for Cancer Treatment”

Cancer is recognized as the second leading cause of death globally, claiming millions of lives each year with studies suggesting that number may rise by 70% over the next 20 years. Thus, developing cancer therapies has become one of the world’s top health priorities. However, despite some success of the current methods, the cancer therapies are limited mainly by tumor-hypoxia, a state of low oxygen in tumor tissues; serious side-effects on adjacent normal tissues; and sites that are often inaccessible or unsafe for treatment by traditional surgical and medical methods. Zamadar proposed research to develop a photosensitizer-cobalt(III) prodrug with the potential to be used as an alternative method to treat and kill hypoxic tumor cells with reduced side effects. Collaboration with expertise in cancer therapy will be established for tumor cell experiments to assure the success of the project.

Dr. Kefa Onchoke — Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Sciences and Mathematics - $24,646
“Microplastics Pollutants in Biosolids”

Microplastics are synthetic, high-molecular weight compounds that have been micronized into plastic particles smaller than 5 mm. They have a low biodegradation rate, remain in the environment and adversely affect the human body, causing serious health issues, including endocrine disruption, weight gain, insulin resistance, decreased reproductive health and cancer. Wastewater sludge, also known as biosolids, are produced from wastewater treatment plants and contain emerging pollutants of major concern, including microplastics. In this study, wastewater samples and biosolids collected from Lufkin and Nacogdoches wastewater treatment plants will be analyzed for their microplastics concentrations. Information from the study will be analyzed to test the public health risks associated with microplastic concentration exposures in sludges and wastewater in East Texas. This study also is useful for the design and management of wastewater sludges.

Dr. Chrissy Cross — Department of Education Studies, James I. Perkins College of Education - $32,000
Coauthors: Dr. Heather Olson Beal, Dr. Amanda Rudolph, Dr. Amber Wagnon, Dr. Kevin Jones
“Empowering Deep East Texas Preservice Teacher Scholarships”

The 12-county deep East Texas region faces critical teacher shortages and economic disparities and is in need of transformative educational interventions. Through the funds, scholarships will be provided to pre-service teacher candidates who are from or currently reside in deep East Texas. Recipients will be current and new students in SFA’s Department of Education Studies fully online Master of Arts in Teaching program. In return for this financial support, scholarship recipients will commit to teaching in public schools within the 12-county area for a minimum of one year after completing their certification program. Their service in these schools will not only address teacher shortages but also enhance student achievement and educational outcomes, ultimately stimulating economic growth in the region. This approach harmonizes with CARRl's mission to drive positive economic resiliency by improving the preparedness of the regional workforce.

Dr. Linda Bobo — Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, James I. Perkins College of Education - $18,344
“Strengthening Deep East Texas School's CPR & Stop the Bleed Training”

SFA’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Science’s graduate athletic training program, Emergency Management office and University Police Department want to enhance the preparedness and resilience of schools in deep East Texas against targeted violence incidents. Recent tragic incidents across the nation underscore the importance of rapid and effective response measures to mitigate the consequences of these types of events. This project aims to equip secondary-level public educators, staff and students with life-saving skills through comprehensive training in CPR and Stop the Bleed techniques. It also aims to create a safer and more resilient educational environment by empowering school communities with critical life-saving skills. The ability to respond effectively to medical emergencies and violent incidents will save lives and instill a sense of confidence and security within our communities.

Dr. Jeremy Becnel — Department of Computer Science, College of Sciences and Mathematics - $22,305
“Industry-Collaboration Capstone: Real-world project implementation for undergrad science majors”

The industry-collaborative capstone initiative is a pioneering educational program designed to integrate real-world industry projects into the capstone course for undergraduate computer science majors. Funds will go toward creating a structured, collaborative framework that connects academic learning with industrial application. The central premise of this initiative is the symbiotic relationship between universities and industry. Students benefit by applying theoretical knowledge to practical, real-world challenges, thereby gaining invaluable experience, industry-specific skills and professional connections. Concurrently, industry partners gain access to fresh perspectives, innovative solutions and potential future employees well-versed in the latest technologies and methodologies.