Photo courtesy of Morgan State University.

Morgan State University will receive nearly $7 million in state funds to launch two new research centers, moving the historically Black university closer to being designated with the highest classification for a research institution.

One of the new centers will drive innovation in the design and manufacturing of semiconductors, while the other will focus on mitigating the challenges facing public schools.

Gov. Wes Moore’s FY24 budget will deliver $6.8 million in state funds for the two research centers, beginning July 1.

The first research center, Morgan’s Center for Research and Education in Microelectronics, will receive $3.1 million. The second, the National Center for the Elimination of Education Disparities (NCEED) will receive $3.7 million.

Morgan is continuing its pursuit of R1 status, as designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. R1 institutions engage in “very high research activity,” the highest possible classification, and Morgan is currently designated an R2 university.

According to Morgan State officials, the Center for Research and Education in Microelectronics will be housed in the School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The center “will focus on training and workforce development in semiconductor manufacturing, preparing students to become the industry’s next generation of professionals. The microchips, also referred to as integrated circuits (ICs), are an essential component of everyday life and can be commonly found in electronic devices, smartphones, radios, TVs, computers, video games, military equipment, and advanced medical diagnostic equipment.”

The center’s launch couldn’t come at a better time for microelectronics. According to Politico, “Washington is ready to unleash an unprecedented $52 billion to support the domestic microchip industry.” The CHIPS and Science Act has earmarked around $200 billion for federal research agencies, though the bulk of the money is expected to go to “established semiconductor giants like Intel and Samsung.”

The School of Education and Urban Studies (SEUS) will house the NCEED, where researchers will “study the needs of underserved communities and create solutions to underachievement, low attendance rates, high drop-out rates, and inadequate preparation for college and career.” They aim to boost students’ chances of achieving their full potential, regardless of their socio-economic status.

Morgan’s SEUS programs focus on preparing their culturally and ethnically diverse student body to enter the field of education and meet the needs of communities living in urban settings. NCEED will aim to tackle societal problems that intersect with education.

According to Morgan State’s website, “The mission of the NCEED is to alter the trajectories of Black, Latinx and low-income children in public schools in Maryland and across the United States, from underachievement, low attendance rates, high drop-out rates and inadequate preparation for college and career, to one in which they have the opportunity to achieve their full potential, regardless of zip code and socio-economic status.”

Morgan State University President David K. Wilson said, “We appreciate the State of Maryland’s continued support of Morgan State University and its mission of educating and preparing our graduates to lead the world, while leveraging the cutting-edge research being conducted on our campus to address the challenges facing our community, state, and nation.” He continued, “The investment made into much-needed research centers will go a long way in strengthening our state and further advancing Maryland as a destination for innovation.”

Earlier in March, in an opinion piece for The Baltimore Sun, Wilson spoke about Morgan’s identity, vision, history and future, invoking its status as a “national treasure.” He described the 146 high-ranking universities that have achieved R1 status and noted that not one Historically Black College or University (HBCU) is among them. Wilson intends for Morgan to make history as the first.

Achieving that top-tier research status nets those universities tens of billions of dollars in federally funded research, and they are and have always been all traditionally white institutions.

While Wilson is incredibly proud of his institution’s research reputation (approximately 17% of Morgan’s alumni are employed in the STEM fields, compared to 11% for Maryland schools on the whole), he refuses to sacrifice the school’s identity as a first-class undergraduate university.

“While we aspire to raise our research standing, we will not become so singularly focused on research production that we abandon our effective undergraduate teaching, which has been instrumental in taking so many students from less-resourced families and elevating them into the middle class in this country,” he noted in his editorial.

He pledged that should Morgan reach R1 status, their research would “disproportionately focus on examining solutions to the crisis facing our urban centers and marginalized communities, such as violence and crime, educational disparities, inequitable community investment, equitable artificial intelligence and machine learning, and health inequities.”

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