JMU to invest in research centers

Africana Studies, Early Childhood Development selected for initial funding

JMU Headlines

by Jim Heffernan (’96, ’17M)


SUMMARY: The initiative comes on the heels of JMU’s classification from Carnegie as an R2 doctoral university with “high research activity” and is designed to enhance the university’s national and global reputation while increasing research production and expenditures.

James Madison University will invest more than $2 million in the development of six academic institutes and centers (AICs) over the next decade to expand research opportunities for faculty and students.

The initiative comes on the heels of JMU’s new classification from Carnegie as an R2 doctoral university with “high research activity” and is designed to enhance the university’s national and global reputation while increasing research production and expenditures.

These research-based AICs will convene scholars, researchers and communities to examine and address 21st century challenges. Three of the centers will be new — to be housed initially within the Office of Research and Scholarship — and three will be existing centers at JMU. All of them will receive funding and support toward becoming fully functional, self-sustaining centers of research excellence by 2032.

Two centers were selected for the initial round of investment following a competitive proposal process.

The African, African American, and Diaspora Studies Center, which launched in 2021 within the College of Arts and Letters, is the epicenter of Africana Studies at JMU, offering an annual international conference, a thriving academic minor, monthly workshops, a Libraries fellowship and a range of research and instructional activities.

new research centers Delores Phillips
Delores B. Phillips is director of the African, African American and Diaspora Studies Center, the epicenter of Africana Studies at JMU.

With more than 70 affiliate faculty members from all eight colleges at JMU and the Graduate School, AAAD’s mission is to “advance interdisciplinary and decolonial knowledge about peoples of African descent — their histories, cultures, languages, arts, economics, spiritualities, sciences and technologies, philosophies, ideas and socio-political structures in local and global contexts.”

“AAAD can develop research-based solutions to answer the questions circulating in our public discourses. Because of our focus on African diasporas, our attention is necessarily global — as are our networks.”

— Delores B. Phllips, director, African, African American, and Diaspora Studies Center

AIC funding over the next three years will help boost AAAD’s capacity to provide opportunities for faculty and students within the following research clusters: 

  • Health and wellness studies

  • Community and economic development, with an emphasis on mutual relations and shared knowledge between communities and constituencies

  • African and African diasporic women, gender and sexuality studies

  • African music, dance and visual art across the continent and throughout its diasporas

  • Digital humanities, identities and identifying

  • Electoral power in the U.S. and political studies of African states

  • The economics and ecologies of Africana foodways

Anthony Tongen, vice provost of Research and Scholarship at JMU, said AAAD was chosen for investment because of its interdisciplinary collaboration, extensive networks — including on the African continent — and its commitment to inclusive excellence.

Meanwhile, the new Center for Innovation in Early Childhood Development will build on JMU’s tradition of teacher education as well as exceptional early childhood programs.

CIECD, which launched July 1, has been under development within the College of Education for the past few years. The center will integrate JMU’s Early Childhood Initiatives, the Young Children’s Program and other outreach services. New laboratory spaces are being added in Memorial Hall.

new research centers CIECD
Maryam Sharifian, executive director of the new Center for Innovation in Early Childhood Development, looks at plans to add lab space in Memorial Hall.

The goal of CIECD, according to executive director Maryam Sharifian, is to provide a platform for ongoing research, grants and studies to increase access, quality and equity in early childhood development.

“Our vision is to create, advocate and witness equitable access to high-quality early childhood development experiences and interdisciplinary resources for children, families and educators across the world.”

— Maryam Sharifian, executive director, Center for Innovation in Early Childhood Development

Early childhood education has historically been underfunded in the U.S. public education system, and this lack of resources has impacted young children’s mental, physical, cognitive, social and emotional development.

Over the next three years, CIECD will become a hub for longitudinal studies in early childhood development; a resource for JMU faculty members to create partnerships and include students in their research and study; a place for doctoral students to complete graduate assistantships; and a vehicle for building stronger connections with community partners. The center will also publish a journal inviting national and international experts in the field to share their knowledge. 

Previously as director of Early Childhood Initiatives, Sharifian was able to leverage a $3.6 million grant from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation to make more than 600 preschool slots available to children from across the commonwealth facing barriers to formal school entry, at no cost to their families. JMU is the largest recipient of the grant.

Sharifian and representatives from Research and Scholarship and the College of Education traveled to Capitol Hill in the spring to brief congressional staff on these new research priorities, with visits to the offices of U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Congressman Ben Cline, Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan and the House Committee on Education & the Workforce.

The next award cycle for AIC investment will take place during the 2025-26 academic year.

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Published: Friday, September 8, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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