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Thinking Outside the Box

UT Arlington scientists use crowdfunding to support research

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Dr. Priscila Cacola of University of Texas at Arlington
Dr. Priscila Caçola works with children with DCD to hone their motor skills. Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at Arlington
Dr. Priscila Cacola of University of Texas at Arlington
Using Microryza allows her to potentially receive funding without applying for a grant. Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at Arlington
Dr. Priscila Cacola of University of Texas at Arlington
Dr. Priscila Cacola of University of Texas at Arlington

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington are turning to crowdfunding in hopes of supplementing their research grants for ongoing and future projects. Faculty are utilizing Microryza, a crowdfunding website designed to raise funds for academic and health research projects.

Essentially a Kickstarter for scientists, Microryza allows researchers to raise money without relying on grants — which can take valuable time to receive. Kinesiologist Dr. Priscila Caçola is one of UTA's first faculty members to test the crowdfunding waters.

“It’s almost like a grant application on a smaller level,” Caçola says. “There’s no limit to the amount you can ask for, but you generally ask for less and the turnaround is faster.”

After UT-Arlington’s office of research suggested Caçola check out Microryza, she created a proposal for her research into Developmental Coordination Disorder. In the first 12 days, she has already received 60 percent of her $2,765 goal.

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is when young children have motor skills below their age level. Problems with handwriting or in physical education can result in mental health issues when the child feels a-typical to his or her peers. DCD affects between six and 10 percent of children.

 "There are a lot of mental health difficulties with being clumsy at an early age," Dr. Caçola says. "They can fall behind in school and be perceived as not typical.”

Caçola works with children in North Texas in a program she created called the Little Mavs Movement Academy, a group intervention program designed to improve their coordination and motor skills.

“I tell the parents ‘the kids won’t be Olympic athletes’ and they know that,” she says, “but there are a lot of mental health difficulties with being clumsy at an early age. They can fall behind in school and be perceived as not typical.”

Her Microryza campaign, titled “Understanding the psychosocial impact of a motor skill intervention,” hopes to continue the progress she and the children are making at the Little Mavs program.

“What makes the project really unique is that I’m one of the only people in the country working on group intervention with DCD,” Caçola says. “Individual intervention works well, but by putting them in a group, it changes the perspective.”

Caçola says that parents of Little Mavs tell her they see significant changes in how their children feel. Instead of worrying about being singled out in a classroom, they feel included.

Another UT-Arlington research group is using Microryza to continue research into how fracking in Texas affects nearby groundwater. After publishing a piece regarding the issue in the Barnett Shale, they are now looking to fund a second study in Cline Shale of the Permian Basin in West Texas.

Caçola says that while much of her crowdfunding has come from parents of children in her program, she has also received pledges from people that she doesn’t even know.

“I’ve seen parents of kids in the program, but I’ve also seen parents that don’t have anything to do with it,” she says. “They believe in the research and thought I was doing something cool with the kids.”

Caçola doesn’t know whether crowdfunding research projects will ever overtake grants as the major provider, but it doesn’t hurt.

“The funding is not what it used to be and it’s not getting better,” she says. “For now, I just see it as supplementing our research lab.”

If Caçola’s crowdfunding reaches 100 percent, she hopes to fund the next leg of the Little Mavs research group for spring 2014.

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