RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Union University (VUU) is set to receive $2 million in the upcoming federal budget to help fund a new research center, an effort spearheaded by University President Hakim Lucas and Senator Tim Kaine.

The new Center for Technology and Innovation was announced earlier this year in partnership with Paragon VTOL Aerospace, a drone company focusing on commercial and medical uses for the new technology.

“Transportation is where we want to lead next,” Lucas said at an event Friday with Sen. Kaine announcing the federal funding proposal. He added that other focuses for the research center would include cybersecurity and education technology.

Dr. Ahkinyala Cobb-Abdullah, VUU Dean of Arts and Sciences, shows Senator Kaine a lab room. (Photo: Jakob Cordes)

The $2 million in federal funds was made possible by the revival of an old political tool: the earmarked dollar.

According to Kaine, earmarks — budget items defined by congress that set aside fixed amounts for specific projects — fell out of favor around 2008, because they had been used to funnel funds to projects run by friends and family of legislators, as well as to project’s from legislators’ home districts — known as pork barrel spending.

But Kaine said the practice has seen a revival in recent years as a way to capture local interests in the budget process.

“Sometimes rural communities or minority communities just don’t get attention — but with earmarks they do,” Kaine said.

There have been some changes to the process though — mostly centered on transparency and accountability.

“If I ask for an earmark, I have to put everything I ask for on my website so that any constituent — college president, journalist, mayor — can look,” Kaine said.

You can view a complete breakdown of the earmarked funds requested by Kaine on his website.

Lucas said the upcoming budget will also mark a historic step for VUU, “It’s the first time ever that we’ve had a senator put us in as an earmark.”

That inclusion was in part because of Kaine’s deep ties to the University and the Richmond area. Kaine hosted the VUU basketball team at the governor’s mansion after they made it into Division 2’s Final Four in 2006, and is a regular attendee of the school’s homecoming celebration.

“[He] lives around the corner and can march to every band song that we play,” Lucas said.

Still, the funding isn’t yet a done deal. Kaine cautioned that, should Democrats lose the House in November, the budget may be delayed.

“I think that likelihood is low,” he added. “I think we have a good chance of holding on to the majority.”