The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust awarded a $5 million grant to Tech’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program this month.

The program aims to bring undergraduate teams together with graduate students and faculty to work on research projects.

“The VIP program creates large-scale, long-term teams of undergraduates that work in partnership with grad students and faculty on research topics of interest to them,” said Edward Coyle, Founder and director of VIP. “Large scale means each team is typically 15 undergraduates, which is much bigger than what most undergrads experience as teams. Long-term means each undergraduate can register and earn credit for up to 3 years and have those credits count towards their degree.”

The program is “vertically integrated,” meaning that when the seniors graduate, the juniors move up and take over the leadership position. Coyle, who had previously established VIP at Purdue University before joining Tech, views these teams of students as kind of mini-companies.

“[The groups are] essentially functioning like a small startup company and doing development things that help the faculty and grad students with their research,” Coyle said.

Currently, the VIP program has students participating from 22 disciplines and faculty advisors from four colleges. Through this grant, Tech’s VIP program will be able to more than double the number of teams and add new faculty, software, and other tools needed to scale things up.

“This grant is a huge opportunity for the VIP program,” Coyle said. “It was operating at three universities before this, and we’ll now have at least 12 universities in the U.S. in addition to Tech, plus two universities internationally. It was the Helmsley Charitable Trust that’s provided the $5 million trust, and it’s been absolutely great working with them. I think they’ve made a huge difference already.”

In addition, he also wanted to thank Gary May, Dean of the College of Engineering, for helping the program “up and off the ground and to the point where we could pull in a big grant like this.”

Coyle has high hopes for the program’s facilitation of STEM education and multidisciplinary research.

“The long term goal is systemic reform of higher education,” Coyle said. “I think if you take a look at higher education, everything is fragmented by time, as everything is chopped up into semesters. It’s also fragmented by discipline, as it’s very difficult to get people from different disciplines to work together without barriers.”

Coyle believes that the VIP program helps overcome this problem and create a cohesive, cross-disciplinary community.