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Making Discoveries that Change the World

March 11, 2013

Our strategic plan Bold Aspirations emphasizes four strategic initiative themes that represent KU’s priorities for addressing societal grand challenges. The four themes touch all aspects of our strategic plan, including education and scholarly engagement, but they are especially central to Goal 3 — Driving Discovery and Innovation.

The four strategic initiative summits held last academic year generated much energy around our research capabilities. The exciting opportunities for collaboration across campus are an important step toward our goal of enhancing research in order to push the boundaries of knowledge and benefit society.

Strategic initiative themes in action

The strategic initiatives are being supported across campus in a variety of ways. The Research Investment Council has funded four Level I grants totaling more than $1.7 million over the next three years and has provided more than $150,000 in funding for five Level II proposals.

The Commons, the site of our four summits, has been hosting several lectures as part of the Bold Aspirations Visitor and Lecture Series, including last week’s visit from Chuanbin Mao, Edith Kinney Gaylord Presidential Professor at the University of Oklahoma, and a Wednesday, March 27 lecture by Geraldine Richmond, Richard M. and Patricia H. Noyes Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oregon.

Another series at The Commons brings together KU scholars for Red Hot Research, a research exchange program featuring short talks inspired by Pecha Kucha. I was pleased to participate personally in a session last fall and highly recommend it. The Commons is also partnering with the Center for Civic and Social Responsibility on The Big Share, an opportunity to share service learning experiences and build new collaborations.

We continue to move forward with plans to hire 12 eminent Foundation Professors through recurring funds allocated last year by the Kansas legislature. We will complement the Foundation Professor hires with clusters of multidisciplinary researchers — existing and new — around the strategic initiative themes.

You can find more detailed updates for each strategic initiative theme on the strategic plan implementation website. We will be planning ongoing events next academic year for the KU community to further celebrate the groundbreaking research happening at KU and to facilitate cross-cutting collaborations.

New support in place for research

Groundbreaking research at KU can often involve literally breaking ground. We are making several investments in our physical space at KU to support our research efforts.

The Advanced Computing Facility in Nichols Hall, which began operation last fall, has boosted our high-performance computing power by a factor of 24, thanks to a two-year renovation and improvement project funded by a $4.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. A $3.5 million renovation to 110 year-old Dyche Hall, funded by the National Science Foundation, state funds, and private gifts, created eight new laboratory spaces for the Biodiversity Institute.

Last October, we dedicated the $24.6 million, 47,000 square-foot Measurement, Materials and Sustainable Environment Center. That same month we broke ground on Phase II of the Learned Engineering Expansion, an $80 million, 140,000 square-foot project; it is partially funded with the $35 million that the Kansas legislature allocated to KU two years ago in order to dial up the pipeline of engineering graduates by 60 percent.

In the February 11 issue of Provost eNews, I highlighted some new ways we are helping advance research funding through corporate partnerships. We’ve also increased our capacity to support faculty research with some exciting new hires. Bob Rummer has joined RGS as director of research development, where he is working with faculty to develop large new multidisciplinary research projects. Rebecca Peterson has joined KUCTC as director of research collaborations; her role is to work with researchers across disciplines and with KU Endowment to connect with foundation funding sources.

Last fall, Tricia Bergman joined RGS as managing director for collaborative projects around the strategic initiative on Sustaining the Planet, Powering the World. With a diverse research team headed by Saeed Farokhi, the John and Winifred Sharp Professor of Aerospace Engineering, she is working on a major proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration for a “Center of Excellence in Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment,” which would include nearly 25 academic partners on five continents.

Keeping an eye on Washington

A top priority this spring is to minimize as much as possible the disruptions to KU’s federally funded research and to KU employees and students caused by the sequester of federal funding that began on March 1. Steve Warren, vice chancellor for research and graduate studies, continues to keep the KU community informed about research funding ramifications. You can find updates regularly posted on the RGS sequestration webpage.

We are also closely monitoring the sequester’s impact upon our students. Federal Pell Grants should remain unchanged for the next two academic years. Federal Work Study and Federal Educational Opportunity Grant allocations will not be impacted this year, but we do anticipate a 5.1% decrease for the 2013–2014 academic year. We expect federal loan fees to increase slightly.

Bits and Bytes

  • Undergraduate advising and main enrollment will begin on Friday, March 29. Current first-year students will be making decisions about opting into our new KU Core curriculum. As new students for summer and fall 2013 choose KU, they will begin to learn about the KU Core and how it, along with our first-year experiences, will transform their educational experiences.
  • The 16th annual Undergraduate Research Symposium will be held during the afternoon and evening of April 27, 2013 in the Kansas Union. It celebrates the diversity of undergraduate research and creative activities on campus. Research is an increasingly important component of a KU education, and for that reason it is incentivized in the KU Core.
  • The Center for Undergraduate Research is also participating in the first ever Kansas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol on Wednesday, April 3. Ten KU students from both Lawrence and the Medical Center will join their peers from the other Regents institutions to present their projects to legislators and the public.
  • Michael Branicky, our incoming dean of engineering, will be joining KU on July 1. I am very excited to have a leader of Michael’s caliber and energy, and I am confident he will continue the upward trajectory of the KU School of Engineering. Already the highest-ranked undergraduate program in the four-state region, KU Engineering is poised for continued gains in education and research nationally. Please join me in thanking Stan Rolfe, the Albert P. Learned Distinguished Professor, for his tremendous leadership as interim dean over the last several months.

I encourage all unclassified professional staff and university support staff to complete the job analysis questionnaire distributed as part of our compensation & market study. The deadline to complete your JAQ is Friday, March 22. More information is available online as well as via town hall meetings on Wednesday, March 13 from 9–10 a.m. in the Kansas Room of the Kansas Union and Thursday, March 14 from 11 p.m.–midnight in the Big 12 Room of the Kansas Union for night shift staff.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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