Prairie Research Institute

Sustainability Engineering Joint Program


Proposal Deadline: CLOSED – Next Cohort 10/2024
Program Contact: Brian Pianfetti, PRI Associate Director of Research,
Program Contact: Don Takehara Grainger Engineering Director for Research,
Proposal Templates folder:
Proposal Q&A responses: [Q and A Responses – SusEng 2023.pdf]
Proposal Submission form: Joint Initiative on Sustainability Engineering Submission Form

Synopsis of Program

The Prairie Research Institute (PRI) and The Grainger College of Engineering are embarking on a new partnership by creating a Sustainability Engineering Joint Research Program. This collaboration will further the University of Illinois’ reputation as a nexus of science and engineering that fosters novel solutions for societal challenges. This is an exciting opportunity to unite the Prairie Research Institutes’ scientific expertise in geology, ecology & biodiversity, archaeology, hydrology and water, weather and climate, pollution prevention, and sustainable energy with the leading global engineering education and research of The Grainger College of Engineering. This initiative aims to encompass joint research and development activities, sponsored funding, private sector partnerships, workforce development and training, and service to the State of Illinois and beyond. This partnership is expected to lead to growth in funding opportunities and to support successful faculty, research staff and student recruitment.

Program Goals: The goal of this request for proposals is to develop a shared research environment for connecting PRI and Grainger Engineering researchers by providing the funding needed to allow these teams to begin to work together to find innovative solutions for important societal challenges. These initiatives will be focused on enabling advances in science and engineering, creating opportunities for students and postdoctoral researchers to combine basic research with real-world problems, and developing partnerships and pathways to implementation.

Funding: A diversity of project types and exploratory research efforts are welcome. Preference will be given to projects with research and collaborative plans that will enable self-sustaining funding and create a path to the funding of large-scale initiatives. Cohort 1 (2023) teams should submit a two-year budget with a maximum of $50,000 per year. We anticipate a variety of types of projects ranging from seed projects to collaboration activities. Proposed scope of research efforts should be aligned with the program funding levels. Do not include indirect cost or tuition remission in these budgets.

Growth Expectations: In addition to making technical and integration progress, each project will be expected to submit proposals for continuing funding to sustain the joint effect beyond year two. During these award phases, the Grainger Engineering Office of the Associate Dean of Research and the PRI Office of the Associate Director of Research will help awarded teams identify opportunities.

Eligibility Information

Team composition: Teams should be interdisciplinary and must include at least one PI/Co-PI from PRI and at least one PI/Co-PI from a Grainger Engineering department(s). The Grainger Engineering participant should be a tenured/tenure-track or specialized faculty member from The Grainger College of Engineering, and may also include Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and/or Agricultural and Biological Engineering. The PRI participant should be a research scientist affiliated with one of the core PRI units.

Non-PRI/Grainger Engineering Participants: Participation from individuals outside of Grainger Engineering and PRI is allowed provided that the funds used are to support students/postdocs and activities from within Grainger Engineering/PRI.

Limit on number of proposals: Individuals can be PI on only one submission per competition, but serve as Co-PI on other proposals. 

Proposal Preparation

  1. Document Format requirements:
    1. Arial 10/Times New Roman 11pt (or similar size), 1-inch margins, standard line and character spacing, single column, and portrait layout. Tables/figures can have smaller sizes but must be readable.
    2. PI last name, Unit, and page number in header/footer
    3. Please use Microsoft Word Template (
  2. Cover Page (1-Page Maximum, not counted toward page limit)
    1. Descriptive Title of project (no more than 180 characters)
    2. Participant Table with Name, Affiliation (Dept/Survey), Relevant Expertise, Role (PI/CoPI/ Collaborator etc.), and email address of each participant
    3. 150-word abstract
    4. 2-3 Topical Keywords
  3. Project Narrative (Maximum 3 Pages)
    1. Overview & Motivation for Research
    2. Goals and Objectives
    3. Research & Collaboration Plan (task based with timeline)
    4. Evaluation Metrics
    5. Anticipated Outcomes & Impacts
    6. Follow-up Funding/Growth Plan
    7. References (not counted toward page limit)

Proposal Submission

  1. Cohort 1 proposals are due by Sunday, November 12, 2023 at 11:59PM
  2. Proposals will be submitted through the OVCR Special Program system:
    Joint Initiative on Sustainability Engineering Submission Form
  3. Upload the following separate documents:
    1. Cover Page (1-page Max)
    2. Project Narrative (3 Page max)
    3. Summary Budget & Justification
    4. CV of PRI Survey/ISTC Lead (3-page max)
    5. CV of Grainger Engineering Department Lead (3-page max)

Please send any questions regarding this proposal to Brian Pianfetti (, PRI Assoc. Director of Research or Don Takehara, Grainger Engineering Director for Research,

Review Process

Evaluation Criteria:  Successful proposals will have compelling responses to the following:

  1. Why this specific topic? Does this project focus describe a compelling need for proposed research that also has the potential to have meaningful national/international impacts and a pathway to implementation.
    1. Why now is the right time to pursue this research? What recent technological advances, societal priorities, or changes to government policies have occurred that make this proposal cycle the best opportunity to succeed.
    2. Why this team? How does the complementary expertise, partnerships, and opportunities that this team brings together uniquely position them for success.
  2. How well do the goals and objectives align with the Joint Initiative on Sustainability Engineering? How well do these activities foster deep integration across PRI/Grainger Engineering researchers.
  3. How well does the proposed research and collaboration plan create an environment that will foster innovations and advances engineering and scientific knowledge?
  4. How well does the team design an interdisciplinary/convergence research approach? Will this effort lead to the formation of additional diverse partnerships to broaden the impact of the research and successful implementation?
  5. Are the proposed teams, approach, and implementation path unique? Are aspects of what is being proposed that are already being researched by other organizations?
  6. How well will the proposed evaluation metrics enable capture progress towards the objectives of the proposal and broader impacts?
  7. Do the proposed outcomes and impacts align with the goals of the proposal and program? Will they lead to meaningful progress towards overcoming the identified societal grand challenges?
  8. Does the team have a sound plan and research potential for growing the research effort to secure self-sustaining funding, and does the initiative have a path to a large-scale funded research program?

Review Panel: Grainger Engineering Office of the Associate Dean of Research and the PRI Office of the Associate Director of Research will coordinate confidential reviews of all proposals, and reviewers will be asked to disclose any possible conflicts of interest for all proposals they are assigned. Reviewers will be selected based on the topics submitted and comprise of representatives from both PRI and Grainger Engineering. Depending on the nature of the submissions, additional reviewers from outside of PRI/Grainger Engineering may be recruited.

Award Administration

Award Conditions: Funded projects will be monitored quarterly to track PRI/Grainger Engineering integration and progress. A full project evaluation using the program review criteria and expenditure reports will take place at the end of each year. 

Reporting Requirements:

  1. Awardees will be required to submit a brief quarterly progress report using specified activity templates.
  2. Awardees will be required to submit an annual report and summary slide by 1st week of December each year. 
  3. Awardees will be required to submit a brief outcome and impact cumulative summary using a specifically provided template in December of the final year of funding.