In 2014, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Birmingham created the Birmingham-Illinois Partnership for Discovery, Engagement, and Education (BRIDGE), which is a framework for continued collaboration and investment to grow the strategic partnership between the institutions.
The BRIDGE framework’s goal is to deepen existing relationships and expand networks to increase opportunities for research within both institutions. There are currently over 70 faculty to faculty links within key academic disciplines.
The institutions have also created the BRIDGE Seed Fund for faculty members who are interested in upholding the goals and mission of the partnership. Awarded annually in May, the BRIDGE Seed Fund fosters collaborative relationships through three different grants. The Implementation Grant supports currently existing faculty relationships leading to clearly defined results; the Initiation Grant encourages wider involvement and expansion of institutional engagements; and the Teaching and Learning Grants encourage new educational relationships to enhance student learning. Grants were awarded to fifteen individuals or groups during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 BRIDGE Seed Fund cycles, each supporting a unique research focus.
One of the 2018/19 cycle projects the Seed Fund supported focused on strengthening non-profit research centers. This project was led by Dr. Ben Lough, an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Illinois. Dr. Lough and colleagues at Birmingham collaboratively organized a 2-day workshop on “Volunteering and Sustainable Development: Home and Away,” which helped to develop strategic partnerships between 30 leading academics and practitioners in the field of non-profit and volunteering research and training. At the close of the grant cycle, Dr. Lough and his collaborators had plans to submit a collaborative summary to the UK’s Department of International Development (DfID) on the voluntary sector’s contributions in the UK to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This information will feed into a report, called a Voluntary National Review (VNR), which will be coordinated and drafted by DfID with support from the UK Cabinet Office and other Government departments. The report will be submitted to the United Nations, ahead of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2019.
Dr. Rachel Harris (Illinois) and Dr. Karen Skinazi (Birmingham) were recipients of a 2017/18 Seed Fund grant. During the 2017-2018 academic year, Dr. Skinazi and Dr. Harris were able to spend the year working on their project “With a Headscarf: The Art of Religious Women’s Feminisms,” which resulted in a co-edited journal. The pair also presented at six conferences. One of those conferences included a panel titled “Kosher Lesbians, Jewellers, Nannies and Brides: Women and Religious Judaism on the Silver Screen” at the annual convention of the Association for Jewish Studies in December 2017, in Washington, DC. During the panel, Karen spoke about Orthodox Jewish filmmakers “‘It’s a Conflict. You’re an Artist and You’re Ultra Orthodox’: Orthodox Jewish Women and the Visual Arts” and Rachel spoke about the representation of Orthodox women in secular films through the model of the bildungsroman: “The Art of Salvation: Jewish Women’s Redemption in Cinema.” They were joined on the panel by Helene Meyers and Dan Chyutin speaking about religious women’s feminism. Karen and Rachel described the grant as creating a "mutually beneficial network of scholars working in interdisciplinary ways on a shared topic."
Professor Brian Cunningham (Illinois) and Dr. Ruchi Gupta (Birmingham) utilized the Seed Fund to further their research on biosensing and hydrogel films. Professor Cunningham was able to provide Dr. Gupta with photonic crystal biosensor surfaces, which were created here at Illinois. They plan to continue their work and hope to be able to encourage attachment of cells and bacteria to biosensors, and selectively bind target molecules with test samples.
The BRIDGE Seed Fund has also supported water research through the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). ISTC received support for their project called “The UoB-UoI Water Assembly.” After collaboratively studying various sites, the researchers from both institutions were able to write proposals regarding water flow, transport of microplastics and emerging contaminants, modeling contaminant transport, sensors for monitoring biofilm development, and the use of gas bubble modeling for current and future projects. The group plans to continue working together to establish the Water Assembly, which will incorporate scientists from both institutions studying water research issues of national and global concern.
The BRIDGE Seed Fund will continue to facilitate groundbreaking research and support diversity of research disciplines from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Birmingham. We look forward to sharing more of the results that come from these collaborations.
Learn more about BRIDGE: http://www.birminghamillinoisbridge.org/.