Research that matters

Professor looks at slide with students

Sometimes it can be difficult for those outside of higher education to understand the different types of colleges and universities — two-year or four-year, liberal arts or research, national or regional, public or private.

One of the great attributes of U.S. higher education, in fact, is its variety. Different kinds of institutions serve different needs, giving students a range of options. All have different strengths, and all have value.

Obviously, a distinction of a research university is that we conduct research. Research is conducted at all types of institutions, of course. But at a research institution — as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching — the creation of new knowledge is essential to our mission and complements another essential focus: the teaching of our students.

But there are many research institutions. What, then, distinguishes one research institution from another?

SIU’s strengths

We have long taken pride at SIU in our ability to involve students in research and creative activities as early as the freshman year. We deliver on this promise, and it distinguishes us from other, larger research institutions. Our students can work directly with faculty members who are leaders in their fields, and they have many opportunities to start and lead their own projects.

We have another strength that we should call out and build upon to make us stand out from other research universities: we conduct research that matters, research that improves everyday lives, research that addresses local and global challenges. In fact, we often leverage what we learn from our unique location to answer global questions related to water, agriculture, forestry and more.

Here are just a few areas our faculty and students have studied over the last couple of years:

  • The global food supply.
  • Flood control.
  • Effects of Hurricane Harvey.
  • Gun violence.
  • Impact of climate change on prairie grass.
  • Nano erasers.
  • Consumer behavior.
  • An undiscovered American fort.
  • Anxiety and depression intervention.
  • Plant ecology.
  • Pollinating insects.

All of these topics are important to our understanding of the world, past, present and future. All have real-life applications.

Multiplying our impact

SIU can stand out even further as we increase our focus on interdisciplinary research that addresses core, global challenges.

Imagine what will happen when we combine our strengths in aviation, automotive, engineering, computer science, agriculture, economics and geography, among other areas, to focus on transportation systems. Or what if the disciplines of medicine, psychology, computer science, engineering, sociology, food and nutrition, and rehabilitation expanded collaboration on research related to rural and remote medicine?

Multidisciplinary research can attract funding, engage faculty and students in new ways and, most importantly, impact lives. I look forward to faculty exploration of the many opportunities we have by combining our research strengths.

Author: Carlo Montemagno

Carlo Montemagno is chancellor of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Learn more about him at