Impact of PDGR program is deep and wide

The Professional Development Grants for Retirees (PDGR) program is the only grant program in the United States to offer funding to retirees who want to continue their intellectual work. Whether in their academic field or starting something fresh, PDGR grant recipients can stay engaged for personal fulfillment and also for greater academic and societal benefit. Since 2009, the PDGR program has awarded more than 130 grants for a wide range of projects, from advancing international prevention science to documenting the life of civil rights activist and University leader Josie Johnson. 

To date, these grants have helped to generate nine books, 48 journal articles, and an untold number of public and professional presentations. In addition, a mix of videos, websites, public exhibits, software, and educational material has been produced or updated with PDGR funding. Many of these achievements are recognized and used nationally and internationally, thus enhancing the reputation of the University of Minnesota. 

Most grant recipients (71 percent) said the PDGR program was their only source of funding. More than half the others said their PDGR awards helped them to leverage additional funds. 

Engineering Professor Emeritus Patrick Brezonik received nearly $680,000 in National Science Foundation and other grants. He said, “I am convinced that none of these grants would have been obtained without the seed funding the PDGR provided.”

Gaining new knowledge

In a survey of grant recipients from 2014 to 2019, PDGR grant recipients cite the benefits of gaining new knowledge and expanding professional networks. Many received recognition, requests for keynote presentations, and offers to organize sessions or write (or edit) a book on topics originally supported with a PDGR grant. 

Emeritus Professor of History William D. Phillips Jr., to cite just one example, used his grant to study the ethnographic observations of foreign travelers in Iberia in the 15th and 16th centuries. “It enabled me to begin a successful post-retirement trajectory of scholarship,” he said.

Strikinglymore than two thirds of the projects have benefited society at large, both in the United States and around the world. 

2014-19 PDGR-supported projects

Here is a sampling of the projects supported over the past five years.

Art. A dance film based on a refugee's memoirs of Nazi Germany; new metal sculptures, displayed worldwide.

Early modern history. Evidence of global trade through a study of dress and textiles in Nigeria; foreign travelers' views of slavery in 15th and 16th century Iberia.

Education and learning. A new approach in learner social identity for people acquiring a second language; a multicultural video series showing parent-child interaction, and a new company to disseminate the videos.

Environment. Determining water quality in lakes through remote sensing; how Spanish fishermen controlled the mainstay tuna population in the 14th to 16th centuries; a video series on the critical importance of mining to the U.S. economy and national security. 

Exemplary achievement. A biography of a woman who contributed to the successes of both Planned Parenthood and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area; folk and fairy tales of a forgotten folklorist; early American Indian writers—the “founding mothers” of Native American literature.

Health. Using biostatistical data to develop approaches leading to better outcomes for younger AIDs patients; analyzing circadian rhythms in chronomics.

History. Interviews with women in Minnesota local government 1970–2000; archiving historic documents on campus religious organizations; collecting an oral history of the founders of early lesbian organizations in Minnesota.

The human condition. Suffering and quality of life; evolutionary developmental psychology theory on personality and how individuals respond to the environment.

Racial equity. Josie Johnson's civil rights memoir; a history of the U of M's early racial housing policies; an online anti-bias course for New York police.

Statistics. Summarizing large amounts of data with a single number; game theory.

A complete listing of the projects supported since 2009 can be found under Grants for Retirees on the UMRA website.

—Will Craig, member, UMRA Board of Directors



For 2023 grant year, the UMRA PDGR Committee reviewed 10 applications for Professional Development Grants for Retirees. The applications covered a diverse set of topics and goals. The PDGR Committee recommended that nine be funded in April 2023. The recipients represented the Morris and Twin Cities Campus. The awardees and grant abstracts are listed on the 2023 PDGR Abstracts page.


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