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Investing in Research

Thursday, January 18, 2018

When I think about what qualities make the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences the heart of KU, research sits atop that list. We are all connected by a desire to better understand the world around us. Research allows us to study subjects deeply and share that knowledge with others. It provides a tool to make change, whether that’s conducting basic research that may lead to novel life-saving treatments or providing clarity in a sea of complex current events. What we do here, as faculty, staff and students, matters deeply.

Knowing how crucial scholarly investigation is to our overall mission, we have focused on research as a top priority this year. As we begin the second half of our academic year, I want to share with you progress we have made and new initiatives to look out for this semester.

Our interim associate deans for research, Tamara Falicov and Joy Ward, have worked tirelessly to institute new programs, supports and opportunities. Their team has grown with the addition of administrative assistant Tabatha Gabay. They have been focused on increasing funding for scholarly projects, enhancing visibility and recognition of research in the College, increasing opportunities for undergraduate research, and building new structures for collaboration.

Just this week, we notified recipients of the first-ever series of Research Excellence Initiative awards from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. More than 120 faculty, postdocs and students received awards from the College to support creative, innovative and impactful projects. Private giving, from alumni and friends who recognize the significance of research to our mission, made it possible for us to award over $250,000.

My goal is to continue to increase the amount of funding and broaden the variety of award opportunities we can provide by getting the word out about the importance of this program for our entire College community.

In about a month, KU will launch its first-ever 24-hour day of giving, One Day, One KU. As part of this campaign, the College will be asking our alumni and friends to invest in the Dean’s Research Excellence Fund, which provides resources for the Research Excellence Initiative. In particular, we are highlighting the value of undergraduate research in the educational experience of our students, as each funded project will include undergraduates in its core activities. Ultimately, I hope to build enough support for all undergraduate students in the College to engage in research in some way before they graduate. Expanding the Dean’s Research Excellence Fund moves us toward that goal and will provide new resources for researchers across the spectrum, including our talented graduate students and our outstanding faculty.

Other efforts are aimed at increasing awareness of the breadth of research projects and collaboration opportunities across the College. Many of you attended one or more of the Sneakers & Scholarship visits in the fall. Tours included the new home of the Department of Film & Media Studies in Summerfield Hall, the herpetology collection at the Biodiversity Institute, and the piano studio of Professor Steven Spooner. More events will be planned this spring, so be sure to watch for announcements.

New this spring, we will launch the Coffee with a Colleague program. The concept is simple – faculty invite a potential interdisciplinary research partner to coffee, with the costs covered by the College. We look forward to seeing many of you take advantage of this opportunity to get to know new faculty colleagues and find innovative ways to bring your work together.

Another initiative that seeks to build awareness of research in the College are our Research Features. In the fall, we asked all faculty to submit one slide with just a few bullets highlighting their research. We are compiling these slides into a packet that will be available online and will be used frequently by our team at KUEA as they meet with donors who are interested in supporting the research mission. Most importantly, it allows us to show off the pride we have in the fantastic researchers across the College from the arts to the natural sciences.

Lastly, I am excited by developments in facilities that will enhance research for many areas in the College. The buildings of the Earth, Energy & Environment Center – Ritchie and Slawson halls – opened for classes for the first time just a couple of days ago. In addition to flexible classroom and learning spaces, the installation of massive mosasaur and sea turtle fossil reproductions are not to be missed. Also, as I noted earlier, film and media studies has moved into a new space in Summerfield Hall. And, the Interdisciplinary Science Building is steadily moving along toward its Fall 2018 opening.

Our reputation as a top research institution, and one that uses its research footprint to enhance the student experience, depends so much upon great researchers. I am excited by the possibilities to amplify what you do. I look forward to another great semester, where your creativity and ingenuity will continue to flourish as we develop and improve supports at all levels of our research mission.