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The Center for Applied Research and
Rural Innovation


The Center for Applied Research and Rural Innovation will bring faculty and students together with business, industry, education, and community partners in dynamic, interactive environments. Through these interactions, students will learn how to use their skills to work in teams with other students from multiple disciplines in order to solve complex real-world problems for rural and smaller communities.

Project Showcase

View the exciting research projects underway by joining us at the Center for Applied Research and Rural Innovation showcase presented by SFA Provost Lorenzo Smith and Mary Ann Rojas, CARRI Executive Director.

Fall 2023 Showcase: Oct. 30 5-7 p.m.

Contact Monica Loa at with any questions.

2023 Grant Recipients

The CARRI Steering Committee selected nine proposals with monies totaling slightly over $200,000. 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 UAS or drones, is increasing in society with over 100,000 UAS pilots needed in the $63.5 billion marketplace by 2025. The UAS program at SFA is well-positioned to provide UAS pilot training that features hands-on experience for students and professionals for the workplace. Ongoing projects with the University Police Department and Emergency Management include campus parking planning, campus lighting for safety and management, location of automated external defibrillators and the provision of information on FEMA documentation detailing campus losses due to storms. Tree stump location for removal, emergency valve shut-off locations and tree hazard rating using UAS are ongoing with the Physical Plant Department. The Hydrex Drone Division provided technical support and UAS for precision and accurate locations leading to 3-centimeter accuracy with UAS and 1-centimeter accuracy with ground control points. Pest impacts are measured with UAS, which saves time and money for Nantucket pine tip moth and crape myrtle bark scale issues. A workshop on emergency management and campus maintenance is proposed. The proposal for the CARRI project suggests hosting a UAS workshop with area agencies to promote current uses, training and technology. Training focuses on the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, DJI Phantom RTK Multispectral, DJI Dual Enterprise Thermal and the new Quantum-Systems vertical takeoff drone. The use of orthomosaics produced from UAS for planning and mapping will add to ongoing UAS and geographic information systems days planned for the East Texas area at SFA.

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. Plant trial gardens provide quantitative data and observations to the horticulture industry so that research-based decisions can be made about plant choices. The Plantery is our 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. Students will be involved in the entire process of conception, installation and evaluation of plant material. Funds will also improve functional outdoor space for growing plants for the trial garden by helping us retrofit our student nursery pad that has seen no major improvements since its construction in the 1980s. Our first target plant group will be native ornamental grasses that can be used in urban plantings and green infrastructure to diversify the plant offerings of East Texas nursery growers, landscapers, landscape architects, garden designers and city planners. Knowledge will be shared through plant talks, plant articles and Plantery events.

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

Art 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. Existing resources at the Cole Art Center could be leveraged for greater impact on students and the local economy through investment in personnel, graduate assistantships and economic research. Project funds would 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. These expansions would enable the School of Art to better serve SFA students, area residents, visitors to our community and the local economy. Students would learn by researching artists, guiding exhibition tours, and planning and advertising events. Area residents, including K-12 students, would enjoy new opportunities in art education, which has been shown to positively impact overall academic success. Visitors could participate in guided tours as well as monthly events centered around visual art. The downtown economy would benefit from increased visitation and art tourism.

Dr. Mikhail Kouliavtsev — Department of Economics and Finance, 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 CARRI staff 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 utilized a matching $4,500 grant from CARRI 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. In Nacogdoches, students attended the RISE women/minority entrepreneurship event and the Farmer’s Market Fall Fling, met with African-American and Hispanic leaders, staffed tables, given talks, and compiled a list of people interested in training or startups. They continued this work in other deep East Texas counties into November and December. This proposal takes the next logical step in this effort, building on what we’ve learned to improve support for businesses, students and the workforce. The primary focus of this proposal is support for 1) potential businesses and workforce members interested in apprenticeships and training, and 2) graduate student Sheryl Davis, who gathered the most valuable information on weatherization workforce training. Her management information systems studies with a concentration in sustainability management will conclude with a thesis on grant writing to support sustainability education and workforce training. Davis will search for funds to further this effort in 2023-24, likely leading to additional funding equal or exceeding her graduate assistant support. We have a matching $4,500 grant from the SFA Environmental Service Fee (green fund) to support (with less funds) 2023 undergraduate research by construction management and/or sustainability majors. Thus, our proposal can be supported by CARRI in part or in full, in order of the following priorities: 1) graduate assistant support, 2) business and workforce support, and 3) matching undergraduate support.

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, or STEM, 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. In addition, this project represents an innovative approach to supporting and retaining in-service teachers to provide high-quality instruction. Enhancing and building on successful workshops held in 2022, we will leverage expertise in the JacksTeach secondary STEM teacher preparation program and the STEM Research and Learning Center to provide direct teacher support through hands-on experience with laboratory exploration activities, funding to support their participation, laboratory supplies specific to workshop activities, continuing professional education credits, and follow-up surveys to support continual improvement and academic research on the impact of the workshops. These efforts will expand student interest in postsecondary STEM study and preparation for success in STEM careers, supporting economic development in the deep East Texas region.

Dr. Kefa Onchoke — Department of Chemistry, 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. PFAS have been linked to increased risks of cancer and infertility, abnormal development in children, and disruption of hormonal and immune systems. PFAS are toxic and potentially harmful to humans and ecosystems. The presence of PFAS in the environment has raised serious concerns globally. Biosolids have high affinity for, and adsorb, 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. Ten PFAS pollutants including perfluorobutane sulfonate, perfluorohexane sulfonate, perfluorohexanoic acid, perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorooctane sulfonate, perfluorononanoic acid, perfluorodecanoic acid and 8+2 fluorotelomer alcohol will be examined. Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy and ultraviolet-visible spectrophotometry will provide PFAS-unique signatures. This study is critical to assessing designs and management of wastewater sludges generated from wastewater treatment plants. Information gathered has far-reaching ramifications on public health risks associated with PFAS concentrations in sludges and wastewater in East Texas.

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

Convening the Deep East Texas Forest Country Tourism Collective

On May 27, 2022, representatives from the 12 deep East Texas counties’ chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus; the Deep East Texas Council of Governments; cities; tourism centers; the Texas Travel Alliance; Texas Economic Development; the Texas Forest Trail; and the Texas Forest Country Partnership convened. They created unique travel and tourism experiences that could fuel economic activities across their boundaries. At the same time, the representatives realized that there are other issues and gaps they need to address as a collective to enhance and stabilize the economic development in the area. Based on this information, the principal investigators recommended that all the key players must gather and discuss relevant topics that need to be addressed, including issues of short-term rental taxation, grant proposal writing, grant availing and so on. Thus, the first-ever East Texas Tourism Conference was born. These key players must continue the conversation of establishing and stabilizing the workforce in the Texas forest country.

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

Building Communities One Building at Time With Construction Jacks

The purpose of this project is to bring agencies, community and manufacturers together to assist with people who are homeless. Faculty members and students in the construction management program and interior design program will work together through in-class and outside-class involvement. This proposal contains two goals. The first goal 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. This project will merge their desire to help others while building their leadership skills and personal communication skills. In addition, students will gain a greater understanding of the field while applying lessons learned to real-life projects using a unique mobile classroom. Students also will be exposed to other cultures and populations while exploring social issues. The second goal is to bring community companies such as lumber mills, nonprofit organizations, showrooms and federal agencies together to assist with partial funding of the homes.


The center, in concert with the work being done by colleges, universities, and public and private entities throughout our region, will help realize the vision for growth that has been developing for more than a decade by supporting these primary goals:

people having a group discussion

Generate a creative economy and engine for vitality and growth that attracts business and industry and encourages talented individuals to stay and invest in the region.

smiling student

Create a unique innovative culture that builds on local strengths and creates a distinctive advantage for the region, including generating jobs and improving the quality of life.

people planning a project

Increase the capacity of the regional workforce in key areas such as data analytics, digital media, and tech commercialization and transfer.

working together

Foster collaboration among higher education, business and industry, and local agencies to address issues and solve problems that no one entity can address by itself.


Develop regional leaders in business and education who understand the challenges and opportunities of this swiftly changing environment.

Location and details


Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) is proposing to locate the Center for Applied Research and Rural Innovation (project) on a site of approximately 15 acres of currently developed property owned by Stephen F. Austin State University. The former home of the Science Research Center, this property is located at 7308 NW Stallings Dr, otherwise known as lot 14 block 72 of HWY 59N, within the City of Nacogdoches, Nacogdoches County, Texas. Additionally, the property is located for prime access to the future I-69 corridor expansion project.

The Center for Applied Research and Rural Innovation will serve the Deep East Texas Region, which covers 9,906 square miles and is comprised of the following 12 counties: Angelina, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity, and Tyler. Deep East Texas region is located south of Tyler and Longview, north of Houston and Beaumont, and adjacent to Louisiana’s western border. It is important to note that the entire region is rural per the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition. There are no urbanized areas within the region.

Steering Committee Members

Name Unit Term
Dr. Todd Brown, Chair College of Business, SFASU 2022-2023 (1 yr)
Dr. C.J. Aul, Vice Chair College of Sciences and Mathematics, SFASU 2021-2023 (2 yrs)
Dr. Summer Pannell College of Education, SFASU 2021-2023 (2 yrs)
Dr. Candace Hicks College of Fine Arts, SFASU 2022-2023 (1 yr)
Dr. Stephanie Jones College of Forestry and Agriculture, SFASU 2022-2023 (1 yr)
Dr. Freddie Avant School of Social Work, SFASU 2022-2023 (1 yr)
Dr. Kim Childs College of Sciences and Mathematics, SFASU 2022-2023 (1 yr)
Beverly Morehouse Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, SFASU 2022-2023 (1 yr)
Susan Morris Physical Plant, SFASU 2022-2024 (2 yr)
Larissa Philpot Nacogdoches EDCO (Community Member) 2022-2023 (1 yr)
Nancy Windham Texas Forest Country Partnership (Community Member) 2021-2023 (2 yrs)
Bob Bashaw Deep East Texas Council of Gov'ts (Community Member) 2022-2024 (2 yr)
Che'ke Yates Lockheed Martin (Community Member) 2023-2025 (2 yr)
Dr. Lorenzo Smith Academic Affairs, SFASU Ex-Officio
Dr. Lana Comeaux Office of Development, SFASU Ex-Officio

For more information

Center for Applied Research and Rural Innovation