Board Highlights Research and Teaching at Quarterly Meeting

November 13, 2011

November 13, 2011 — The University of Virginia's teaching and research took center stage as the Board of Visitors held its quarterly meeting Thursday and Friday in the Rotunda.

The gathering included the first meeting of the board's Special Committee on Research, chaired by Randal J. Kirk, whose goal is for the University to develop high-impact research with growth potential that sets U.Va. apart from its peers. The board's Educational Policy Committee heard about two of U.Va.'s research-to-market success stories, and was updated on efforts to improve teaching in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The board also set a new clinical direction for the Medical Center, endorsed a new undergraduate degree program for the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and heard a report on the success of "social norms marketing" in reducing alcohol abuse among students.

University President Teresa A. Sullivan offered her thoughts on the unfolding events related to the child sexual-abuse scandal at The Pennsylvania State University, and the board learned of plans for renovating two key areas of the Academical Village. Finally, the board passed a weapons regulation that will ban all guns on Grounds, except for law-enforcement officers and preapproved academic or artistic display.

Research Successes Enter the Marketplace

Brian Wamhoff, an associate professor in the School of Medicine, started in 2006 with an outside-the-box research idea that he was having difficulty finding funds for. Now he is an officer in his own growing company and is reeling in millions in grant awards.

Wamhoff shared his story Friday with the Educational Policy Committee. He recalled that when he was having trouble attracting outside research funding, he managed to arrange three institutional grants totaling $87,000.

Some positive initial results led Wamhoff and his colleague, Brett Blackman, an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, to believe that their technology for providing more reliable testing of new pharmaceuticals could have commercial application. They scraped together $50,000, founded HemoShear LLC in January 2008 and entered their business plan in a Darden School of Business competition, taking third place and receiving valuable input.

Wamhoff and Blackman secured a patent on their technology in 2010 and received their first $750,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. A second NIH grant this year, for $4.5 million, will fund evaluations of 50 Federal Drug Administration-approved drugs. Along the way, HemoShear helped forge a relationship between U.Va. and the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which led to a $3.5 million partnership with the University's Cardiovascular Research Center.

In addition to his University title, Wamhoff is now vice president for research and development of HemoShear, which itself is growing. He credited the University with providing him multiple opportunities to prove and refine his concept.

Anselma Canfora, assistant professor of architecture in the School of Architecture, shared the story of Initiative reCOVER. He saw a need for improved disaster recovery housing, beyond tents and FEMA trailers. With as many as 50 million people displaced annually as a result of natural disasters, Canfora sought a way to design sustainable, energy-efficient housing using local resources and in a manner that is culturally appropriate.

He received about $1.5 million in funding from nine different internal and external sources as he developed his plans. Canfora's new company, Recover Inc., is now seeking to break into the global recovery housing market, which he estimated at $6 billion annually. He plans to prefabricate some of his buildings, then adapt them to local communities using local materials and people to do the final assembly.

One design, the "reCOVER Breathe House," meant for Haiti, beat some 400 registered competitors in a design contest earlier this year. A prototype will be built in Haiti in January.

Initiative reCOVER this summer entered into an agreement with several Southwest Virginia entities to aid in the manufacture of disaster housing.

Provost Targets Improving STEM Teaching

In his first appearance before the board, John D. Simon, appointed late this summer as executive vice president and provost, said improving teaching in the so-called "STEM" fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is one of his top priorities.

He cited a 2005 national study that found that half of college students in biology and the physical sciences, and 60 percent of those in mathematics, switch majors before their fourth years – most in their first or second years. Most, he said, cite poor teaching as the reason.

Toward that end, Simon introduced Karen Inkelas, director of the U.Va. Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, or CASTL-HE. The center, housed in the Curry School of Education, was established in 2009 based on a 2008 recommendation by U.Va.'s Commission on the Future of the University.

Inkelas and CASTLE-HE are leading studies of teaching and learning in STEM fields aimed at providing feedback to faculty about what works and what does not.

In one such study, CASTL-HE is testing whether using 3-D fabricators in introductory engineering courses helps student retention.

Students in introductory mechanical engineering courses typically study two-dimensional drawings of machines in textbooks, or perhaps two-dimensional models designed through computer-assisted drafting. However, new digital fabricators can produce working 3-D models of those machines, a sample of which she passed around the meeting room. CASTLE-HE and the Engineering School are now studying whether incorporating such 3-D models provides a better learning experience for students.

Simon joked that when he taught introductory chemistry, he and his colleagues often had the feeling that they were "the pre-med screening committee."

"What's not taken into consideration," he said, "is that some of those 50 percent who are not going to medical school could become scientists."

"I don't have the answers on how we teach STEM," he said, but added that he's eager to foster experimentation.

Board Approves Batten School Undergrad Degree

The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy took another step toward fulfilling its namesake's vision on Friday when the board approved its first undergraduate degree program, a bachelor of arts in public policy and leadership.

If it receives its expected approval by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, the program could see its first students next fall. Ultimately, it plans to enroll 75 students per year, Eric M. Patashnik, Batten School acting dean, said.

Students would apply for admission during their second year, and enter in the fall of their third year. The program will require at least 40 credit hours in the Batten School and a fourth-year capstone seminar that includes a group project, he said.

Clinical Strategic Direction Approved for Health System

At its meeting Thursday, the Medical Center Operating Board approved a clinical strategic direction for the Health System through 2020. Key elements include:

• Setting a statewide standard for safe, high-quality and accessible care through innovative approaches to delivering patient care.

• Ongoing investment in the Health System's three missions – patient care, research and teaching – to foster an ongoing cycle of success.

• Partnering with community health-care providers to advance health care throughout Virginia.

• Driving innovative care in Virginia and the U.S. through partnerships, research and advanced technologies.

• Earning recognition as a top-tier academic medical center that is a national leader in advancing health care through innovative teaching, research and patient care.

R. Edward Howell, vice president and chief executive officer, shared an example of how the Medical Center is driving innovative care: the introduction of an intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging scanner suite, which provides surgical imaging and evaluation within an operating room.


• Larry Fitzgerald, associate vice president for business development and finance, said the first quarter of the 2012 fiscal year "from a financial perspective, was very strong for the Medical Center." Operating income was $15.1 million, just slightly below the budget of $16.3 million. Unlike many similar academic medical centers, U.Va. is seeing an increase in admissions, Fitzgerald said.

• Steven T. DeKosky, vice president and dean of the School of Medicine, said the school's "Next Generation" curriculum, with its emphasis on team-based learning, is having a positive impact on medical students. Faculty say that the first class of students taught with the curriculum, which entered in August 2010, has advanced so quickly that "they're more like first-year residents," DeKosky told the board.

U.Va. is consulting with about 20 other medical schools interested in the curriculum, and Simon noted that other schools on Grounds are interested in the team-based learning concept.

• Bo Cofield, Medical Center associate vice president for hospital and clinics operations, shared ongoing initiatives to improve patient care and satisfaction. One example: a commitment to escort all patients and visitors to their destination instead of merely pointing them in the right direction.

Sullivan Addresses the Penn State Scandal

Less than 24 hours after The Pennsylvania State University's trustees fired President Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal, President Sullivan on Thursday used her preliminary remarks to the board to speak on the lessons those events held and "the nature of presidential leadership at universities."

Noting that "no president, no matter how personally noble and sagacious, can prevent every crime," she said there are ways to reduce risk.

"What we can do, as a matter of policy and practice, is to create the conditions that nurture the best in us, while remaining alert and active whenever we encounter misconduct," she said. "More specifically, we function best when we seek to ensure in our community that we have good people, good processes and good systems."

The responsibility universities hold is immense, she said.

"We are entrusted daily with the sons and daughters of this commonwealth and other parts of the world, and we are entrusted daily with the care of patients and their families. We must ensure that we subscribe to the highest values in our interactions with anyone's children," she said.

Children receive special protections in day-care centers, pediatric clinics and wherever they are on Grounds, Sullivan said. "With such systems in place, it becomes clear that having a child in a locker room, the alleged case at Penn State, is an outlier – because that's a place without special protection for a child," she said.

Such outliers must be identified and practices changed, she said.

"As a mother and a university president, I grieve over the events at Penn State," she concluded. "I want U.Va. to learn from negative events that happen at any university; most of all, I want us to learn from events we experience here, and to model for our students how we can continue to learn and improve. I pledge myself, imperfect and fallible as I acknowledge myself to be, to lead by example."

Keeping the Fires Burning

The campaign to repair the chimneys in student rooms on the Lawn and along the Ranges and install fire suppression equipment had raised $428,000 in pledges as of Thursday morning, Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget, reported.

Fires were banned this winter when an inspection revealed cracks in the chimneys, flues and fireboxes. The University has arranged to make repairs before the end of the winter, but only if funds are raised to foot the $3.7 million bill.

Students and alumni leapt into the fundraising effort to preserve the cherished tradition of having fires in Lawn rooms, producing a "Keep the Fires Burning" website. The U.Va. Alumni Association has pledged to match the first $1 million in gifts, and Board of Visitors member Robert Hardie – a Lawn resident in the 1986-87 school year – and his wife, Molly, made the first major gift of $100,000.

"I think it is one of the truly special traditions at the University," Hardie said. "It's part of the 'special sauce' we talk about the makes us unique and different."

The board formally added the project to its planned maintenance project list for the year, clearing the way for repairs to begin – if the funds are raised in time.

"I think we'll get it," Hardie said. "Too many people don't want to see this tradition go away."

Board Discusses Rotunda Renovation Timetable

Magnolia trees that have shaded the courtyards of the Rotunda for perhaps a century may need to be removed to allow work to begin on a $50 million renovation. It's all part of the replacement of the leaky Rotunda roof, the plans for which David Neuman, architect for the University, laid out Thursday for the board's Buildings and Grounds Committee.

Neuman recommended removal of the magnolias to make way for the scaffolding needed to replace the Rotunda roof. The trees, he said, are not in good health and pose a risk to the Rotunda should they fall.

Magnolias were not part of the original plan for the Rotunda's courtyards, Neuman said. A 1902 photo of the east courtyard shows no trees; a 1914 photo of the west courtyard shows young magnolias, which he speculated were the ancestors of the current trees.

Board members seemed surprised by the trees' possible demise. They were concerned about the preliminary timetable outlined for the roof repair, which has the potential to affect the building's appearance during Final Exercises in 2012 and 2013.

[President Sullivan subsequently responded to the proposal to remove the trees and the timetable for the renovation. Read her comments here.]

The committee also approved concept, site and design guidelines for the new indoor sports practice facility to be located adjacent to University Hall, and approved the selection of two firms – VMDO Architects of Charlottesville and Knight Architects of Atlanta – as the architects and engineers for the project.

The committee also had its first look at designs for the planned expansion of the North Grounds Recreation Center. The $17.2 million project, designed by Cannon Design of Arlington, includes a 10-lane, 25-meter lap pool, two regulation squash courts, a multi-purpose room, locker rooms, wet classroom, sauna and whirlpool. Construction is expected to begin in February and be complete by August 2013.

Board Adopts Weapons Regulation

The board voted Friday to approve a regulation prohibiting weapons at the University, its Medical Center and its College at Wise.

The regulation, which will be submitted to the state this week, will go into effect upon publication in the Virginia Register and later will be published in the Virginia Administrative Code. No further state approvals are required.

U.Va. already has a policy banning weapons. Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli wrote an advisory opinion in July that the policy cannot apply to those with concealed-weapon permits because it does not have the force of law. A regulation, such as the one at George Mason University, however, is enforceable, he said.

The Virginia Supreme Court upheld Mason's regulation after gun owner Rudolph DiGiacinto sued, arguing that the ban on guns in campus buildings violates the state's constitution.

The University's regulation is consistent with both its prior policy and the Virginia Supreme Court's guidance in the DiGiacinto case.

The regulation applies to faculty, staff and students who are anywhere on University property and to members of the general public who are on University property in "academic, administrative, athletic, entertainment or student residence buildings, child care or dining facilities, the University Medical Center or while attending sporting, entertainment or educational activities."

Exceptions are made for educational or artistic displays and University-approved training. Requests for such uses will be considered by University Police on a case-by-case basis.

Board Briefs

• Robert D. Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs, reported that the $3 billion capital campaign surpassed the $2.5 billion mark at the end of September. Cash flow during the first quarter of the fiscal year was $66.2 million, a 77 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.

While large gifts are up, "We feel we are seeing a return of smaller donors to the campaign," reversing a trend that began in 2008, Sweeney said.

• The University's endowment had a rough quarter, dropping from a $5.35 billion market value on July 1 to $5.1 billion on Sept. 30. The 4.3 percent loss was still ahead of the policy portfolio benchmark, according to a written report to the Finance Committee from the University of Virginia Investment Management Company.

• James Turner, executive director of student health, reported to the Student Affairs and Athletics Committee on the success of U.Va.'s "social norms marketing" aimed at curbing risky alcohol use among students. National surveys taken since the 1990s show no change in students' drinking habits, but binge drinking is down at U.Va. by 22 percent between 2001 and 2010, and negative consequences – for example, missing classes – were also reduced by significant amounts.

• David Prior, chancellor of U.Va.'s College at Wise, gave the school's annual Samuel R. Crockett Award to Richard Kast, U.Va.'s associate general counsel. The award, named after one of the school's founders, honors "an individual who has made significant efforts toward strengthening the relationship between the University of Virginia and the College."

—  By Dan Heuchert, Eric Swensen and Marian Anderfuren

Media Contact

Dan Heuchert

Assistant Director of University News and Chief Copy Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications