Less than six months after Princeton announced new partnerships with five historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), joint research projects spanning from cybersecurity to public health have begun.

In November, Princeton announced 10 research partnerships chosen for the first round of funding through the Princeton Alliance for Collaborative Research and Innovation (PACRI), a new initiative that “enable[s] research collaborations between Princeton faculty and their peers at HBCUs,” according to the University’s initial announcement in May.

The selected proposals encompass the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and engineering and “take up some of the most difficult challenges of our day,” according to Princeton’s November announcement.

“We were very pleased with the strength and number of proposals submitted for the first round of PACRI funding and look forward to the results that will come from these collaborative, creative projects,” said University spokesman Michael Hotchkiss.

Each project will be funded for  two years, with a maximum of $250,000 per project. Two projects were chosen in conjunction with  each of the five HBCU partners: Spelman College, Howard University, Jackson State University, Prairie  View A&M University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The United Negro College Fund, which advocates for and funds scholarships for Black students, is also a PACRI partner.

From funding scholarships for HBCU students to the potentially groundbreaking impacts of the research itself, “it was a win-win,” said Tessa Lowinske Desmond, an associate research scholar and lecturer at Princeton’s Effron Center for the Study of America and a co-principal investigator (PI) of one of the projects.

Each project will be funded for two years, with a maximum of $250,000 per project.

She’ll be working on “The Heirlooms Garden Project” with co-PIs Hanna Garth, an assistant professor of anthropology at Princeton; Kimberly Jackson, chair of chemistry and biochemistry, professor of biochemistry, and director of food studies at Spelman; and Whitney Barr, program and garden manager at Spelman and a trained landscape designer.

They are using the funds to train Princeton and Spelman students in oral storytelling techniques and then send them, over the next two summers, to select sites to collect 240 oral histories from those working to preserve Black and Indigenous seed-and foodways, such as farmers and gardeners, in the Southeastern United States and Appalachia.

“So much about food is hidden within stories and people’s memories,” said Barr, who noted that the project will provide open-source access to the interviews.

Garth said it’s important to collect the narratives because the knowledge is often not understood by people outside of the farming communities; the narratives can also provide insight on well-adapted seeds.

Spelman is an ideal partner, as the institution already has an eighth-of-an-acre on campus — centered around African diasporic plants — used to teach agroecological and regenerative practices that are part of Black culture.