Research Portal

June 8, 2022

College of Built Environments’ unique Inspire Fund aims to foster research momentum in underfunded pursuits college-wide. And it’s working.

Launching the Inspire Fund: An early step for CBE’s Office of Research

For a small college, CBE has a broad range of research paradigms, from history and arts, to social science and engineering.” — Carrie Sturts Dossick, Associate Dean of Research

Upon taking on the role of Associate Dean of Research, Carrie Sturts Dossick, professor in the Department of Construction Management, undertook listening sessions to learn about the research needs of faculty, staff and students across the College of Built Environments (CBE). Housing five departments–Architecture, Construction Management, Landscape Architecture, Real Estate, and Urban Design and Planning–CBE’s research portfolio is incredibly diverse, in terms of both topics as well as methodologies. These listening sessions did, however, elucidate some common needs. Also informed by insights from CBE’s strategic planning process which took place 2019-2021, the CBE Office of Research, led by Dossick, took steps in winter 2021 to address one of the most pressing needs: funding. 

A strategic focus on funding

In January 2021, the College of Built Environments launched its new CBE Inspire Fund to “inspire” CBE research activities that are often underfunded, but for which a relatively small amount of support can be transformative. Funded partially by the recovery of indirect costs on the college’s funded research projects, as well as by other funds designated to broadly build CBE research capacity, the Inspire Fund aims to support research where arts and humanities disciplines are centered, and community partners are engaged in substantive ways. Inspire Fund is also meant to support ‘seed’ projects, where a small investment in early research efforts may serve as a powerful lever for future research–and future funding.

Arts and humanities offer unique insights across built environment disciplines

The CBE strategic framework includes Bold Thought Leadership on transdisciplinary topics and/or methodologies for which the college is uniquely poised to contribute. More broadly, the fields of arts and humanities are widely recognized as disciplines for which external funding opportunities are minimal. 

Engaging with community partners in substantive ways requires upfront investment

Another pillar of the CBE strategic framework is Collaboration and Impact, through not only interdisciplinary partnership but partnerships that bridge academia and other communities. Community-engaged research, at its most impactful, takes up-front investment to build trust and shared goals; yet, such projects often face seemingly small barriers that can nonetheless derail the collaboration. Targeted and flexible funding can alleviate some of those challenges, and scholars across all units of CBE could benefit from this solution as they undertake such complex yet impactful community-engaged work. 

Seed funding can catalyze larger research efforts 

It’s often challenging to receive funding for an early-phase project, especially if up-front investment is needed before the research objectives, methodology, and scope can be clarified. Seed, or pilot, funding can enable any scholar by supporting the development of foundational research expectations, early results, and concrete work plans that can build capacity for lead to more research, and, sometimes, much larger funding awards. 

Importantly, the themes of arts and humanities, community-engaged scholarship, and seed funding are often intersecting in any given project.

Inspiring results from the inaugural cohort

In the 2021-2 round of the CBE Inspire Fund, six grants were awarded to PIs hailing from four departments across the College of Built Environments. The awardees engaged with a range of topics including sustainability; diversity, equity & justice; community advocacy & empowerment; and community health. The results of these projects point to the salient impacts of the Inspire Fund, achieving intertwining goals around humanities and arts; community engagement; and seed support to launch bigger projects. 

Historic resources gathered by Tyler S. Sprague and Sierra Miles, in their project documenting the legacy of Benjamin F. McAdoo Jr. Image credit: Tyler S. Sprague & Sierra Miles. 

Notably, the fund has empowered the work of student researchers, scholars navigating early career development and community partners in their existing work. In nearly every project from the inaugural cohort, the Inspire Fund directly supported the contributions of student researchers within the College of Built Environments. 

In a project led by Tyler Sprague, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, and collaborators Eugenia Woo, Susan Boyle, & Kelly Daviduke, the Inspire Fund helped to foster a new and emerging BIPOC scholar in architectural history, Sierra Miles, in their work revealing and celebrating the legacy of Benjamin McAdoo, the first licensed Black architect in Washington State. With the Inspire Fund’s support, the project was able to highlight underrepresented voices in built environments fields both in scholarship and research topic. This work also changes the paradigm for architectural history by using a research consortium approach.  

For Ann C. Huppert, associate professor in the Department of Architecture, the Inspire Fund allowed her to reactivate her research in architectural history. This included making progress on two related book-length projects,  Building Knowledge: The Culture of Construction in Sixteenth-Century Rome and, in collaboration with historian, Pamela O. Long, Constructing the Church of Il Gesù in Rome. Outcomes from this Inspire Fund-supported work include, thus far, multiple past and upcoming conference presentations and publications. She was also awarded a Visiting Senior Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts where she intends to complete a chapter of her book on construction in sixteenth-century Rome focused on the construction of the Farnese Palace. 

The inaugural cycle of Inspire Funds also enabled pursuits of larger funding opportunities and built capacity for lasting collaborative partnerships. In the case of Hyun Woo “Chris” Lee, associate professor in the department of Construction Management, and Yohan Min, PhD candidate, the fund enabled the team to pursue preliminary research on energy vulnerability that is already leading to larger grants and supported Min in his phd. dissertation. 

Data gathered by Lee and Min in their project titled “Characterization of Energy Vulnerability in terms of Various Urban Administrative and Community Characteristics in the Pacific Northwest Cities.” Image credit: Hyun Woo “Chris” Lee & Yohan Min.

In a project titled Mapping Energy Equity led by Teresa Moroseos, postdoctoral scholar in the Integrated Design Lab, in collaboration with James “Lamar” Foster, PhD candidate with UW’s College of Education and research fellow with UW’s eScience Institute, and Christopher Meek, associate professor in the Department of Architecture and director of the Integrated Design Lab, a salient impact of the grant was the building of partnerships across UW labs and centers, which has strengthened capacity for future interdisciplinary work. The team also acknowledged how the contributions of collaborators at the eScience Institute was essential to this research and valuable in strengthening research networks. 

For Keith Harris, lecturer with the Department of Urban Design and Planning and affiliate with Landscape Architecture, and student collaborators Shannon Tyman, Aisling Doyle-Wade, Jude Brown, Lamis Ashour, and Talia Kertsman, the Inspire Fund allowed the team to continue building relationships with community partners at the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, Black Star Farmers, and the Black Lives Memorial Garden. The team’s research on community health will be extended through these continued partnerships and several student projects, including working with Black Star Farmers as they work on the garden. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated barriers and disruptions, the flexibility of Inspire Fund to account for extensions and revised scope of work has been critical to several impacted projects. In their work on mapping cultural spaces, Rachel Berney, associate professor in the Department of Urban Design and Planning, Jess Zimbabwe, adjunct instructor in the Department of Urban Design & Planning, and Shuxuan Zhou, Senior Researcher, City of Seattle Racial Equity Lab, were supported with a one-year extension where a revised scope of work will allow them to synthesize the results of their research and pursue several publication opportunities. In this project, Berney, Zimbabwe, and Zhou worked with a team of student researchers including former CEP students, Andrea Sebastian & Lexie Abrahamian, and Kaleb Germinaro & Kayla Chui, PhD candidates with the UW’s College of Education.

The inaugural cohort’s work is reflective of some of the ways the Inspire Fund can substantively support researchers and their efforts. This work has trained students in research methods and techniques for community-engaged scholarship.  This work challenges paradigms and assumptions about how we do our research, who is included, and what research products and impacts look like.  

Looking toward the next inspired projects, and beyond

The 2022-3 round of Inspire Fund is underway and the awardees include recipients from the departments of Architecture, Construction Management, Real Estate, and Urban Design and Planning. Their projects tackle topics such as food sovereignty, anti-displacement, affordable housing and health and wellbeing. We are pleased to welcome the return of several researchers from the inaugural cohort on their new endeavors. 

Rachel Berney, Donald King, affiliate professor in Architecture & Branden Born, associate professor in Urban Design & Planning are working with Black churches in Seattle’s Central District to better understand the lived experience of displacement. In a separate project, Branden Born, along with Omar Nuñez Mendez, Academic Director with the School of International Training, is exploring localized grand challenges such as climate change, migration, and food sovereignty in Oaxaca, Mexico. Gregg Colburn, assistant professor in the Runstad Department of Real Estate, and Co-PI Rebecca J. Walter, associate professor in the Runstad Department of Real Estate, are developing a comprehensive guidebook on affordable housing in the US. Hyun Woo “Chris” Lee, along with Sofia Dermisi, Victor L. Lyon and Alvin J. Wolff Endowed Professor in Real Estate & Professor in Urban Design and Planning; Heather Burpee, research associate professor in Architecture and at the Integrated Design Lab; and Novi Bramono, PhD candidate in the Built Environment PhD program, are investigating the status of health-related requirements and standards in current building codes. Rick Mohler, associate professor in the Department of Architecture is working with partners at the City of Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD)–Rico Quirindongo, Lauren Flemister, Michael Hubner, & Brennon Staley– and graduate students to identify opportunities within Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan that address historic inequities relating to housing diversity, affordability, livability & racial equity. 

We hope that the Inspire fund supports everyone in building research momentum along their disciplinary paths, and that it encourages interdisciplinary connections as well, to transform the ways we make new knowledge.” — Carrie Sturts Dossick 

These projects are just getting started, and so is the Inspire Fund. In May 2022, the CBE Office of Research held its first Inspire Fund lunch & learn, where previous and current grant recipients shared ideas, lessons learned, and other resources from their scholarly works. Dossick hopes to continue building connection among Inspire Fund researchers, which would address another common desire of CBE researchers: a sense of community. 

We want to acknowledge the support of Dean Renée Cheng and the CBE Deans Office in this fund.  We also want to acknowledge the work of the Office of Research who supports these activities, including Director of Research, Jen Davison, and Assistant to the Associate Deans, Maisha Barnett.  Their insight, thoughtfulness, and support have been invaluable.  We want to also thank all who have submitted proposals and the review committees who have supported the review and selection of the awards.