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The Maryland Catalyst Fund

The Maryland Catalyst Fund program is the University of Maryland’s internal faculty research support program and a key resource in the university’s overall effort to expand its research activity, visibility and impact. The program is designed to enable innovative research, incentivize the pursuit of large, complex, and high-impact research initiatives, and help UMD faculty to be more competitive for extramural research awards.

The Maryland Catalyst Fund program is overseen by the Vice President for Research (VPR) and managed by the VPR’s Research Development Office, in coordination with UMD academic units and the Provost. All awards are supported by Designated Research Initiative Fund (“DRIF”) contributions from both faculty organizational unit(s) and central resources from the VPR and the Provost, and all award decisions are made subject to the availability of funds.

Universal Funding Form (PDF)

Funding Categories

The Maryland Catalyst Fund is undergoing updates. The programs currently available are: 

New Directions Funds

The New Directions Fund aims to enable important new lines of research and creative work with high potential for impact. There are three competition tracks:

  • Track A: Proof of Concept awards support researchers pursuing a new line of research or collaborative partnership to help them be competitive for external funding.
  • Track B: Limited External Grant Opportunity (LEGO) awards support particularly innovative research, writing, and/or creative work in fields where external funding is scarce.
  • Track C: Racial & Social Justice Research awards supports research on the underpinnings of, consequences of, and/or solutions to address systemic, institutional, and structural racism and injustice.

Big Opportunity Funds

The Big Opportunity Fund (BOF) offers proposal preparation support to incentivize faculty to pursue and be more competitive for large, high-visibility, externally-funded research opportunities (typically ≥$2M/year for multiple years). Such awards contribute to the university’s overall research volume, impact, and reputation.

Reinforcement Grants

Provide operating support to cover activities critical to the execution of a proposed large-scale externally-funded research award, when grant funding is not available to cover certain operational expenses. Such operating support is intended to help build infrastructure for new center-level research awards whose establishment improves the university’s overall impact and reputation. Reinforcement Grants aim to make major funded research programs more productive and more competitive for future renewal.


Only tenured/tenure-track and professional track faculty (at the rank of assistant research scientist or higher), whose full-time, home position is at UMD, are eligible to be the Principal Investigator of any Maryland Catalyst Fund award. Visiting, adjunct, and affiliate faculty are not eligible to apply; postdoctoral fellows are also ineligible.

New Directions Fund - Past Awardees

The inaugural competitions for campus-wide New Directions Fund awards took place in the fall of 2018, with work beginning in January 2019.

Brief abstracts for awardees are linked below.

Proof of Concept

Identifying Parental Sexual Orientation Socialization Strategies: Conceptual and Measurement Development
Jessica Fisher, Department of Family Science, School of Public Health
Sexual minority (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual) youth (SMY) experience poorer mental health and greater substance use than their heterosexual peers; these inequities stem from stigma within youth’s social contexts. Research identifying mechanisms that promote SMY health and resilience remain scarce, as are measures that assess these mechanisms. These gaps impede efforts to develop prevention and health promotion programs for SMY. Adjacent research on parental racial/ethnic socialization – parental practices that communicate positive messages about race and culture to children – provides compelling evidence for the protective influence of identity-based socialization for youth of color. Thus, it stands to reason that parents of SMY who engage in strategies that socialize their children around their sexual minority identity (e.g., celebrate youth’s sexual identity, communicate strategies to address stigma) could provide unique protections for SMY mental health and prevent substance use during adolescence. The study will support a shift in the PI’s research agenda and contribute substantially to advancing research in SMY health through the development of a (1) testable conceptual model of parental sexual orientation socialization and (2) self-report measure of parental sexual orientation socialization practices that can be utilized in future research and intervention. The findings will be used to help the PI competitively vie for approved NIH funding opportunities that are forthcoming.

Data-Driven Deep-Learning-Accelerated Discovery of Atomic Catalysts
Teng Li, Department of Mechanical Engineering, A. James Clark School of Engineering
Catalysts are required for >90% of the chemical processes and there is an ever-surging need for developing high-performance catalysts to secure a sustainable future. Atomic catalysts are surging as a new research frontier in catalysis science, given their maximum atom-utilization efficiency and high activity/selectivity to enable highly efficient chemical reactions toward green energy, net-zero CO2 emission, and access to clean water. Enthusiasm aside, the success of atomic catalysts hinges upon a rational design strategy that remains a grand challenge, largely resulting from the huge design parameter space. Conventional experimental design via trial and error and computational design based on first-principle calculation are both time and cost prohibitive and suffer from low efficiency. Aiming to address this grand challenge, we plan to develop a novel data-driven deep-learning-accelerated design methodology for the discovery of high-performance atomic catalysts, which holds promise to a paradigm shift in the rational design of atomic catalysts. This project will allow us to explore an exciting new direction with fertile opportunities in the field of research of data-driven materials discovery.

Measuring Quantum Energies of Molecules in Extreme Rotational States
Amy Mullin, Department of Chemistry, College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
The Mullin group will investigate how molecular geometry is distorted by extreme amounts of quantized rotational energy. An optical centrifuge is a strong-field method that is capable of preparing molecules in high energy rotational states that have not been observed, or characterized, previously. This project is designed to measure the extent to which extreme rotational energy affects the vibrational states in centrifuged molecules. We will accomplish this by directly measuring quantum energies in different vibrational states using a spectroscopic method known as combination differences. Inverted rotational distributions of gas-phase molecules will be prepared in our optical centrifuge and the rotational quantum states will be detected using high-resolution transient IR absorption probing.  Pairs of IR transitions that share either a lower or upper state are combined to yield the rotational energy ladder for different vibrational states. The ability to measure rotational energies separately from vibrational energy marks an important new direction in research. The outcome of these experiments will inform current models of molecular quantum states, contribute to our understanding of heat transport at the molecular level, and lay the groundwork for understanding the dynamics of gas-phase molecules in extreme energy environments.

Exploring the Impact of an Inclusive Higher Education Program for Students With Intellectual And/or Developmental Disability
PI: Yewon Lee, Assistant Clinical Professor; EDUC-Counseling, Higher Education and Special Education
Individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disability (I/DD) have one of the lowest employment rates in the U.S. This is largely due to a lack of inclusive postsecondary education (PSE) options for people with I/DD. To help address this issue, the Center for Transition & Career Innovation (CTCI), nested in the College of Education, launched the TerpsEXCEED (EXperiencing College for Education and Employment Discovery) Program in 2021. This 2-year inclusive PSE program prepares students with I/DD for competitive employment and independent living. There are very few inclusive higher education programs across the nation and their outcomes and impact are under-researched. Our project explores how an inclusive PSE program impacts students with I/DD, their families, and the campus community through a case study. Our findings will inform the conceptual development of a replicable inclusive PSE model and serve as a seed for future federal funding opportunities and investments (e.g., Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities [TIPSID]). We believe that our work will contribute to disrupting systemic exclusion of people with I/DD by challenging traditional beliefs and practices of higher education.

Interaction Detection in Context-Aware Physical Classroom Spaces: Understanding Individual Children’s Classroom Experiences
PI: Jason Chow, Associate Professor; EDUC-Counseling, Higher Education and Special Education
A rich language environment is essential for children to be successful in the preschool classroom and beyond. Adult language input is a fundamental component of the environment and enables the acquisition of these skills. These tenets, recognizing the importance of the environment and the role of adult responsiveness to children, are central components of the transactional theory of language development. This proof-of-concept project aims to pilot the novel application of interaction-detection technology. We will partner with the College of Education's Center for Young Children and use interaction-detection technology to understand the real-time relations between teacher language input, child language development, engagement, and peer interactions. We will test the usability of interaction-detection technology linked with audio data to capture children’s learning experiences and the distribution of teacher’s attention and engagement in real time. This project will extend current research on average experiences and begin to unpack variation in individual learning experiences; findings will lead to data-supported external funding applications to federal agencies that support this line of inquiry.

Racial & Social Justice

Digital North Brentwood Heritage Project
Mark Leone, Department of Anthropology, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences
North Brentwood, Prince George’s County, Maryland was originally known as Randallstown, named after the US Colored Troop Veteran, that purchased the first lots in the 1890s. In 1924, it became the first community incorporated by African Americans in the County, and second in the State. It is located along Route 1, south of the College Park campus and north of the District of Columbia line. The community is currently confronting old challenges related to stormwater management and new impacts of gentrification, including the potential destruction of historic sites.

The participatory heritage framework is designed to empower Town residents and community descendants through digital historic preservation. The project helps to maintain and expand the town’s heritage using state-of-the-art technologies for documentation and dissemination. The cultural and historic values shared by the community will reach a global audience through digital first-person 3-D and virtual reality environments. The stories of the community will be shared in their own words through oral histories and historic images embedded in these digital spaces. The data produced also contributes to the town’s management of gentrification and stormwater related disasters.

Anti-Black Racism Initiative
Rashawn Ray, Department of Sociology, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences
The Anti-Black Racism initiative (ABRI) is designed to promote long-term change on campus and in our community and state through the advancement of research to inform racially-equitable policies. The mission is to create racially-equitable opportunities for African Americans by supporting community-engagement and policy-oriented endeavors. Building on existing coalitions, ABRI leveled up partnerships to increase the number of Black faculty and advanced research portals for scholars focused on dismantling racism. One primary goal of the ABRI is to address racism in our local community and on our campus, produce scholarship that advances a national conversation and policy agenda on social justice, and empower students to envision and create a racially equitable future.

“The System Isn’t Built for Us.” Exploring Black and Latinx Parent Experiences of Educational Exclusion in a Local District to Reduce Inequality
Sophia Rodriguez, Teaching, Learning, Policy, and Leadership, College of Education
This qualitative case study centers on Black and Latino/x parents' experiences of exclusion in a local community and calls for the school district to engage in equitable collaboration as a viable strategy for improving family engagement practices. The project assumes Black and Latino/x families are and ought to be considered educational policy thinkers and makers given the assets and knowledge they bring to educational settings. Using a critical qualitative case study approach, the project will leverage interview and focus group data of 75 parents in a local school district to contribute to research and advocacy efforts to increase racial and social justice for underrepresented parents.

Evaluating Implementation Determinants and Processes of the Montgomery County, Maryland's Racial Equity and Social Justice Act
Kellee White, Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health
Racism is a key determinant of population health that contributes to creating, maintaining, and perpetuating racial/ethnic inequities. Increasingly, local governments are developing and implementing policies that address racism, as a strategy to create healthier and more equitable communities. Recently, the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act, passed in Montgomery County, Maryland mandates legislative committees on racial equity and requires racial equity impact assessments and statements for management, legislative and budgetary priorities. Evaluating policy implementation processes can provide valuable information about the barriers to and facilitators of implementation and identify differences between planned and actual implementation to inform ongoing implementation decisions and improve outcomes. Yet, there is a dearth of evidence assessing implementation determinants and processes, particularly for racial equity policies that address racial equity. Towards this end, this project will: 1) evaluate implementation determinants and processes of the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act; and 2) develop a racial equity and social justice policy evaluation implementation framework. The results of this study have the potential to further our understanding of racial equity policy implementation processes, determinants, and outcomes that can aid stakeholders, decision-makers, and researchers to support evidence-informed policies to improve population health and reduce inequities.

The CARE Youth Internship Program at the University of Maryland
PI: Ariana Gard, Assistant Professor; BSOS-Psychology
Youth participatory action research (YPAR) is an innovative equity-focused form of Community Based Participatory Research in which youth are trained to identify and analyze social issues relevant to their lives (Ginwright, 2007). With support from the 2022 Maryland Catalyst New Directions Funds, the Community And Resilient Environments (CARE) Youth Internship Program will empower youth of marginalized identities to conduct qualitative and quantitative research in their own communities. Youth participants will assess social and physical features of neighborhood blocks in NE Washington DC, collect physiological and air pollution data using wearable sensors, describe the implications of environmental quality on health and wellbeing, and receive training in research principles and ethics, basic research methods, and how to present study findings to local community leaders and members. This project represents a new research direction for Dr. Arianna Gard, whose work thus far has focused on examining the impacts of environmental adversity on youth neurobehavioral development using more traditional researcher-driven quantitative methods. By training and empowering youth to become researchers in their own communities, the Growth And Resilience across Development (GARD) Lab is working towards advocating for community-driven methods in developmental science.

Slavery, Law, and Power: Debating Justice and Democracy in Early America and the British Empire
PI: Holly Brewer, Associate Professor; ARHU-History
The Slavery, Law, & Power project sets up a system for sharing manuscript materials that connect slavery with processes of law and power, with a focus on the early British empire and the mainland that would become the United States. We now live in an era where it is not enough for experts in any given field to weigh in and pronounce truths that everyone can believe. To understand issues such as those surrounding the emergence of slavery, of empire, and of theories and practices of absolute monarchy, at the same time as theories and practices of human rights, democracy and supposed enlightenment–raises many questions about the connections between them. This project tries to fill a gap in existing collaborative projects related to slavery (e.g. those on the slave trade such as Slave Voyages, and on individual lives such as to focus on the connections between the emergence of slavery and the way it was supported by larger power structures, including judicial decisions and laws, in the midst of complex debates about justice. By making the evidence accessible, it enables users whether scholars, students, or interested members of the public– to not only understand the past but also the legacies of that past in the present.

Proof of Concept


Proof of Concept


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