In 2004, the West Virginia Legislature enacted a bill that established the Research Challenge Fund (RCF) to support research and development projects at institutions of higher education. The legislature found that the Research Challenge Fund “is a critical component in the state’s strategic plan for economic development…” and charged the West Virginia Science and Research Council with developing plans for implementing the objectives of the legislature.

Priorities of the Research Challenge Fund include:

  • focus on research that builds on the state’s existing research strengths in emerging science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields
  • develop students and faculty
  • promote collaboration between Grades K-12 and higher education
  • recruit eminent scholars to strengthen research capacity and competitiveness
  • seek economic development projects that have significant potential to attract industrial, federal and foundation partners and funding.

The fund is managed by West Virginia Science & Research, a division of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, which also manages academic research funding from other sources, primarily the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program.

In implementing the program, West Virginia Science & Research developed these objectives for the Research Challenge fund:

  1. increase the research capacity and competitiveness of institutions of higher education
  2. stimulate research that is directly applicable to improving the competitiveness of state industries and to developing new businesses
  3. leverage state resources with private and federal funds
  4. increase the production of undergraduate and graduate students in fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
  5. hold institutions more accountable for the success of research projects.

The Research Challenge Fund supports the following major programs:

  • Research Challenge Grants (RCG), the largest awards from the fund, is to assist faculty researchers to compete for external funding on a national basis by providing incentives to increase capacity, create research centers and foster economic development and workforce advancement.
  • STEM Fellows (Graduate Student Fellowships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), a program to help West Virginia University and Marshall University recruit and support highly qualified graduate students to help meet the goals of the RCF and the NSF EPSCoR program.
  • SURE (Summer Undergradate Research Experience), a program to provide research experiences in STEM fields to undergraduate students.

The Research Challenge Fund also provides assistance for Instrumentation Grants (equipment for advanced undergraduate laboratories at primarily undergraduate institutions), Innovation Grants (improvements in scientific equipment and facilities, curriculum, classroom instruction or delivery at primarily undergraduate institutions) and Mini-Grants (stipends for faculty members to prepare research or research equipment proposals with the goal of obtaining larger external grant funding).

The Research Challenge Fund is not to be confused with the Research Trust Fund.