STEAM Innovation Grant

The Office of the Vice President for Research and the School of Fine Arts are pleased to offer the STEAM Innovation Grant program to support research projects involving STEAM collaborations. A total of $60,000 in funding is available for this year’s competition.

The purpose of the program is to encourage innovative collaborations between the arts and STEM disciplines (e.g. all disciplines housed in the Schools of Engineering or Medicine, or the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, or those sciences, including social sciences, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences). Projects funded by this grant may result in publications, exhibitions, performances, academic symposia, or other research outcomes. Preference will be given to proposals which identify specific external grant opportunities that have the potential to support sustainable (e.g., multi-year) collaborations.

Proposals may be submitted for awards of between $20,000 and $60,000. The standard award period will be May 1 to June 30, unless there is a compelling reason for a different period.

The deadline for the FY23 competition will be Tuesday, November 22, 2022 at 5pm.  Awards will be announced on Monday, December 19, 2022.

For more information, please see the STEAM website.

STEAM Innovation Grant FY22 Award Recipients

April 4, 2022

The School of Fine Arts is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021-2022 STEAM Innovation Grant award. We received a strong pool of proposals and are grateful to all who applied.

Prof. Christina Ross – School of Nursing

Prof. Ting Zhou       –  Dept of Digital Media & Design, School of Fine Arts

Promoting Black Female Adolescents in Foster Care Sexual and Reproductive Health and Sexual Self Efficacy Using a User-Centered Culturally Sensitive Trauma-Informed Mobile Health Application Called “Lela - Black Beauty”           


Project Abstract

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies are priority public health issues disproportionately affect Black youth. Adolescents in foster care are at an increased risk for unintended pregnancy and high-risk HIV/STI behaviors compared to adolescents, not in foster care. Despite adverse outcomes such as elevated rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy, research and creative digital interventions to address sexual and reproductive health (SRH) disparities and promote sexual self-efficacy among this population are scarce. Further, Black female adolescents in foster care report feeling unsupported by their foster parents and caregivers in meeting their SRH needs. Youth with biological parental support have parents who can advocate for their SRH. Separated from their biological parents, youth in care often are self-advocates for their SRH needs. Many youth in foster care rely on the internet and romantic partners for SRH information, which at times may be inaccurate, placing them further at risk. Therefore, promoting adolescents in foster care sexual sex efficacy is vital in helping them avoid sexual risks. The purpose of this study is to conduct focus groups to gather Black female youth in foster care perspectives regarding their SRH needs, challenges to accessing equitable SRH care, interventions needed, ways to promote their sexual self-efficacy, and feedback on a mHealth app intervention prototype to promote sexual self-efficacy called “Lela,” meaning Black beauty. We will use data from the study to improve the prototype in preparation for a future pilot control trial to test its efficacy and feasibility. This study aims to fill a gap in knowledge regarding innovative, culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed interventions to promote adolescents in foster care SRH and sexual self-efficacy. The app will offer youth in care the resources and skills needed to promote their sexual self-efficacy and SRH in a confidential, non-judgmental, accurate, evidence-based, user-centered, culturally appropriate, and trauma-informed manner.


Alain Frogley (Associate Dean, School of Fine Arts)

Ofer Harel (Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences)

Leslie Shor (Associate Dean, School of Engineering)

Kumar Venkitanarayanan (Associate Dean, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources)

STEAM Innovation Grant FY21 Award Recipients

February 28, 2021

The School of Fine Arts is pleased to announce the 2020-21 STEAM Innovation Grant recipients:

Clare Benson – Art & Art History

Cristina Colón-Semenza – Kinesiology

Charlotte Gray – Art & Art History and Alexey von Schlippe Gallery, Avery Point


Movement, Creativity, and Community: Improving Gait and Quality of Life in People with Parkinson Disease through Photography and Collective Experience

Parkinson disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that affects over 4 million people worldwide and is projected to affect over 9 million people by 2030. PD is characterized by reduced movement amplitude and speed, resulting in impaired gait (walking) and independence. Physical therapy plays a critical role in slowing the progression of symptoms associated with PD. Our collaborative project aims to improve current approaches by integrating creativity and interactive image-making (photography). For the patient, the experience of creating images through movement will increase motivation and motor learning as it enhances autonomy, outcome expectations, pleasure, and reward. The images will also provide external feedback on movement to reduce gait impairments.  Finally, a gallery exhibition that highlights the creative experience within physical therapy will improve quality of life.


  1. To determine the feasibility, safety, and acceptability of the use of interactive imaging in gait training for people with PD.
  2. To determine the preliminary efficacy of interactive imaging in gait training to improve spatiotemporal characteristics of gait and motivation for movement.
  3. To determine the preliminary efficacy of an art exhibition of images of people with PD while walking to reduce stigma and improve emotional well-being.

Methods: Twenty individuals with PD will be randomized into 2 groups. Both groups will complete 16 sessions, over 8 weeks, of gait training, however only the intervention group will use the interactive imaging interface. All participants will be assessed at baseline and at the conclusion of training and will participate in the art exhibition.

Significance: Feedback through gait training with photography and the creative experience may improve walking ability and motivation for practice. In the future, this approach may be used in virtual reality or gamification to augment gait training. Art exhibitions that highlight walking ability and improvements may improve mental health for individuals with PD.


Selection committee:

Alain Frogley (Associate Dean, School of Fine Arts)

Lisa Park Boush (Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences)

Leslie Shor (Associate Dean, School of Engineering)

Kumar Venkitanarayanan (Associate Dean, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources)                                               

STEAM Innovation Grant FY20 Award Recipients

The School of Fine Arts is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2019-2020 STEAM Innovation Grant awards. We received a very strong pool of proposals and are grateful to all who applied. Funding support totaling $80,000 will be granted to three exciting faculty projects:


Jasna Jankovic - Materials Science and Engineering

Christopher Sancomb – Art & Art History


UConn STEAM Tree                                                                                                                                                                                                               

As global climate change rises to the foreground of our current social, political and scientific consciousness, the collective awareness of viable solutions that offer options for accessible renewable energy sources is relegated to experts. Many people have general knowledge of “green” energy options but lack firsthand experience or engagement with these technologies. In addition, several proposed “green” energy options (e.g. solar panels, windmills) are considered eyesores by many. This lack of firsthand experience, coupled with negative aesthetic appeal, can be a barrier to adoption. Our collaborative team seeks to develop an artistically designed portable renewable energy UConn STEAM Tree and then to explore human social reactions to the presence of the tree. Our vision is that this tree would serve as a multidisciplinary research instrument, teaching tool, and most importantly a beautiful, functioning clean energy-harvesting power source that would promote social interactions and understanding though public engagement. We are seeking funding to initiate the project, including the planning, research, and public engagement through focus groups and design charrettes. Then our team will develop, design and construct a prototype of a functioning tree for temporary site-specific installation on the UConn campus.

A second phase is planned utilizing the prototype and research data to seek external funding for an increase in scale and functionality that would enable us to seek partners for public installation and production.

We believe this tree could become an integral part of the landscape at UConn and provide an appealing design that would help raise public awareness of renewable energy and other global solutions through firsthand experience and social interaction, while also serving to illuminate current research, interdisciplinary work, and positive change at UConn.


Robert Astur – Psychological Sciences

Kenneth Thomson – Digital Media & Design


A Virtual Reality Intervention for Decreasing Vaping in College Undergraduates

College students have the highest prevalence rate of electronic cigarette use, commonly called “vaping,” of any other group, and this rate is rising. Aside from cancers and other health risks that accompany nicotine use, there is growing literature indicating that vaping in young adults leads to an increase in future use of nicotine, marijuana, and alcohol. Moreover, there is evidence that vaping during adolescence modifies the brain to create aberrant reward processing and an increased vulnerability to addiction and psychiatric problems.

Previously, we published a tobacco smoking cessation intervention in which participants searched for and crushed virtual cigarettes in a virtual reality (VR) world (Girard et al., 2009). Compared to the control group, the crushing-cigarettes group displayed significant reductions in nicotine addiction and significantly higher abstinence rates from real-life cigarettes. In the current project, we will dovetail the unique strengths of UConn’s Digital Arts and Design department in VR and graphic design with the experimental and research expertise of UConn’s Psychological Sciences department to create a similar intervention.

The goal of this project is to use a novel VR behavioral intervention in UConn undergraduates with problematic e-cigarette use to reduce real-life e-cigarette use and decrease cravings for nicotine. Accordingly, we will implement a customized 4-week VR intervention in which 80 undergraduates with problematic vaping will seek and crush virtual electronic cigarettes within a VR environment. Their change in real-life vaping and cravings will be compared to 80 undergraduates in a control group.

This intervention will produce clear health benefits and will create excellent pilot data for larger grants to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other NIH institutes. Additionally, success in this project will kindle UConn opportunities to create marketable VR software that can be disseminated to various health care and clinical providers.


Daniel Goldberg – Music

Insoo Kim – Medicine and Biomedical Engineering


Synchronizing Movement and Sound: A Wearable Sensor System to Track Coordination between Dance and Music

During a dance performance, dancers and musicians synchronize their movements with a remarkable level of precision. We propose to develop and apply a system that uses pressure sensors inside dancers’ shoes and motion sensors on dancers’ bodies to record data about how dancers move in time with music. Our analysis of these data will contribute to understanding of the nature of human synchronization and of the cognitive and neural mechanisms that control timing and coordination in creative temporal performance. Recently researchers have employed

video motion capture systems to collect data about dance movements. Unlike motion capture, our system of wearable sensors will be portable and minimally disruptive, facilitating the study of dance in realistic performance contexts instead of in a lab. We will use the sensor system to record movement and audio data from dancers and musicians in Bulgaria, and these data will allow us to analyze the periodicity, phasing, and variability of dance movements in coordination with music. Bulgarian folk dance is of special interest in this regard because it includes uneven rhythmic patterns that most models of synchronization developed in the context of Western European music do not fully explain. In addition to the wearable sensor system itself, this project will generate results to support an application for NSF funding, two articles published in academic journals, and musical recordings that can serve as stimuli for other types of experiments about Bulgarian music. The sensor system also has broad applications beyond our test case of synchronization with Bulgarian dance: the system will facilitate data collection from many other styles of dance, and these data may serve a variety of goals such as creating dance animations or teaching dance.


Selection Committee

Alain Frogley (Associate Dean, School of Fine Arts)

Cathy Schlund-Vials (Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences)

Leslie Shor (Associate Dean, School of Engineering)

Kumar Venkitanarayanan (Associate Dean, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources)

STEAM Innovation Grant FY19 Award Recipients

STEAM Innovation Grant 2018-2019 Award Recipients

December 21, 2018

The School of Fine Arts is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2018-2019 STEAM Innovation Grant awards. We received a very strong pool of proposals and are grateful to all who applied. Funding support totaling $60,000 will be granted to two exciting faculty projects:


Ying Lee, Mechanical Engineering & Institute of Material Science

Heejoo Kim, Digital Media & Design


Art Advancing Science: Filmmaking Leads to Deep Insights into Nanomedicine

Many have recognized the potential value of facilitating activities that span the art-science interface for the benefit of human society. Nevertheless, there are few examples that demonstrate how pursuit of an artistic agenda can lead to scientific insights. In this project, we aim to produce an entertaining short film depicting the nanoparticle-mediated drug delivery process within human body. It will not only be used to excite the general public about the science and engineering as a parody of a preview for another Star Wars movie, but also help us to develop a simulation tool for multi-scale modeling of targeted drug delivery. To produce an aesthetic that communicates mechanical continuity across spatial scales, we will develop custom strategies to integrate the physics-based animation software from the entertainment industry with in-house developed simulation tools, using experimental data from research publications. Using this approach, we will be able to depict the targeted drug delivery across multiple spatial scales, from how the drug delivery vehicles circulate with blood flow in the human vasculature network, to how the thermal fluctuation and hydrodynamics influence the transport of these delivery vehicles in tumor stroma. The blood flow simulations, which will be validated by reproducing the results of past simulations and experimental studies, might highlight other potential mechanisms for how the vasculature network can alter local hydrodynamics of blood flow and thereby influence the accumulation of delivery vehicles. Therefore, pursuit of an artistic work not only leads to deep insights into biological system at multiple scales, but also enables the development of a highly generalizable modeling and simulation technology applicable to complex multiscale systems.


Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer, Dramatic Arts

Emily Myers, Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences


Voice Switch, Brain Switch: The Cognitive and Neural Predictors of Vocal Expertise

Our voices are fundamental to our identities.  We flexibly navigate between different voices, dialects, or speech registers, perhaps adopting “baby talk” with an infant and a “phone voice” in the office. Yet for some, deploying the right voice at the right time carries significantly greater stakes.  Actors are trained to assume a new dialect or speech pattern to convincingly inhabit a role.  For transgender people, adopting a voice that is consistent with gender identity can be a matter of safety.  And for people whose home dialect is tagged as lower-status, code-switching between higher-status and lower-status dialect variants can have educational, professional, and social implications.  Surprisingly little is known about the neural, cognitive, and social traits that allow individuals to smoothly switch between multiple voices. In this proposal, we use behavioral tests, acoustic analysis, interviews, and neuroimaging methods (fMRI) to understand voice switching. We ask why some are natural mimics and/or particularly adept at working across dialects.  Further, by comparing our findings across a diverse set of “voice experts” (actors, trans people, code-switchers), we will search for commonalities in the substrates of voice switching.  This proposal leverages the combined expertise of the two PIs.  Scapetis-Tycer (DRAM) is a theatre voice/dialect coach, while Myers (SLHS) is an expert in the neural correlates of speech. Results of these studies will have pedagogical implications in that they will help identify strengths and weaknesses for dialect acquisition and performance and therefore will suggest specific approaches with students/clients. The products of this project will be research that can be used to launch a large scale (NSF) funding application, audio recordings that will be available for pedagogical and research purposes, and documentary footage on voice and identity that may be used as material for future performance-based or film explorations of the link between voice and identity.


Selection Committee

Alain Frogley (Associate Dean, School of Fine Arts)

Cathy Schlund-Vials (Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences)

Kumar Venkitanarayanan (Associate Dean, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources)

Mei Wei (Associate Dean, School of Engineering)