Second open forum discusses presidential interdisciplinary initiative

Eric Debner

The second open forum for President Leath’s recently proposed interdisciplinary research initiative was held in Memorial Union Campanile Room at 11:00 a.m. on October 26. Professors, associate professors, program directors and many other ISU faculty from across the disciplinary spectrum attended the information session with anticipation and excitement.

Senior Adviser to the Office of the President Tahira Hira led the forum by first introducing the administrative panel, which included Jonathan Wickert, senior vice president and provost; Miles Lackey, associate vice president to the office of the president; Sharron Quisenberry, vice president for research and economic development; and James Reecy, director of the office of biotechnology and professor of animal science.

Hira briefly outlined the program’s goals and expectations for funded research teams.

“Over a three-year period, the [research] groups will submit serious grant proposals of significant magnitude [in the multi-millions],” said Hira.

The discussion passed to Wickert who proceeded to explain the “big picture.” Wickert said the program places an emphasis on ISU’s membership in the American Association of Universities (AAU).

According to the AAU website, “the Association of American Universities is an association of 61 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada.”

“AAU is a prestigious moniker for ISU,” Wickert said. “Membership is by election and based on the university’s performance and impact. Bolstering [ISU’s] position in AAU was a desire held by [former ISU President Gregory L. Geoffroy] and now President Leath.”

The discussion then switched over to the topic on financials. Three research teams will be provided resources in the form of pursuit funds, Hira said, in amounts up to $500,000 per year for a three year cycle, potentially totaling $1.5 million.

Ultimately, the goal of the program is to support ISU faculty and challenge them to swing for the fences and secure large grant proposals, Wickert said; the Presidential initiative provides resources for ISU faculty who might not have enough time because of other duties, such as teaching classes and conducting research.

“President Leath said this initiative is important enough to put some resources behind it,” Wickert said. “Resources not to do research, but to help write grant proposals.”

These resources are not to be used for research, but to help the groups write grant proposals. However, there is a slight exception to the rule.

“You can spend some of your money on [preliminary] research through the smaller proof-of-concept grants [ranging from $50,000 to $100,000] where the focus is more limited or for higher-risk,” Hira said.

While the Presidential initiative is still in the beginning stages, the forum helped provide the administrators with new insight on potential changes that could be made within the program.

”We’ll go back and discuss everything,” Reecy said. ”There will be another re-evaluation and an announcement for the reactions to this forum will be sent out.”

The seeds for interdisciplinary research were successfully planted. Faculty who otherwise had little opportunity to meet with fellow peers beforehand have now begun to network and search for correlations between the many disciplines across Iowa State University.

“Anytime you have a university the size of ISU, it’s very easy for faculty to go for long periods of time without ever meeting each other,” Reecy said. “[The forum] is a wonderful opportunity for [ISU faculty] and the community in general to get to know each other.”

The forum also emphasized the important connection between the university administration and faculty.

“They’re taking the time to engage with the faculty and find out what’s important to them, and then respond to that feedback,” said David Grewell, chair of Iowa State’s Biopolymers and Biocomposites Research Team and associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering.