University Establishes Science and Engineering Research Council

August 2, 2010 — The University of Virginia's Office of the Vice President for Research, working with the Faculty Senate and the University community, has created a Science and Engineering Research Council to advance U.Va.'s role in society and among research universities.

Recognizing that many of today's most urgent and significant social issues are complex in nature, and that advances in basic understanding in sciences and engineering often create new opportunities for human expression, social good and economic prosperity, a modern research university offers a unique consortium of innovators and problem solvers.

"It is our belief that by enhancing the collaboration and communication among a diverse body of scientists and engineers, exciting and high-impact ideas can be made visible and acted on more readily and effectively, with outside partners often a critical part of the solution or activity," said Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research.

The council will serve as an advisory group to Skalak's office, and will meet about six times each year. The first meeting was held June 30.

The council consists of faculty members from the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Ex officio members include several senior administrators, including associate research deans; Yoke San Reynolds, vice president and chief financial officer; Robert Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs; and Deborah Donnelly, senior development officer for innovation and research.

The council's goal is to create new pathways for communicating fresh ideas from individual labs to advance fund-raising strategies with high potential for attracting high-quality partners. The council will work with Skalak's office to identify, create, evaluate, integrate and help realize new and existing initiatives that further distinguish the University. The council also will foster communication among science and engineering researchers and University leaders to empower the collective effort.

"New ideas change the world," Skalak said. "This council will provide a forum where the distilled experience of a diverse body of 15 active scientists and engineers can be brought to bear on institutional issues and ideas that can distinguish the University of Virginia. It is unique in that we will connect the discussions immediately to our chief financial officer, associate deans for research and chief development officers, optimizing and integrating ideas in ways that can attract outside partners to important shared issues.

"We are focused on forward-looking and innovative ways to further develop the sciences and engineering, including moving potentially distinguishing science and engineering programs into the top tier nationally."

The University also plans to establish two parallel research advisory councils this year; one for the humanities, arts and social sciences, and the other for pan-University creativity and collaboration.

The council concept arose from creative discussions between Faculty Senate leadership, the Senate's Planning and Development Committee and the Faculty Forum for Scientific Research, a 30-member, peer-elected body.

"Transforming the University of Virginia into a top-tier research-intensive institution in science and engineering will present enormous challenges in a time of resource scarcity," said Kevin Sullivan, associate professor of computer science and co-chair of the Faculty Forum. " Such a transformation will require full engagement of the faculty of the University.

"The formation of SERC as an action-oriented faculty body advisory to the vice president for research is a vital positive step forward in this direction. We are delighted to see our efforts to form this council come to fruition. We are especially pleased with the charter that defines the SERC as an action-oriented body truly representative of the talented and creative faculty in science and engineering research at U.Va."

Faculty Senate chair Gweneth West, a drama professor, said, "I am proud to have been a part of the original SERC planning group as we have created a detailed written document intended to inspire strong collaborations and creative innovations, and a membership of visionary scientists and engineers who will provide insight and leadership as U.Va. moves toward excellence in the 21st century."

And Rob Grainger, co-chair of the Senate's Planning and Development Committee, noted: "The formation of the Science and Engineering Research Council creates a new and essential alliance, a working group joining the faculty with dean and University leadership, for realizing our shared goal of sustaining and creating top-tier science and engineering departments and programs. This is a major step forward in the quest for excellence in science and engineering at U.Va."

Inaugural members of the Science and Engineering Research Council include:

College of Arts & Sciences
•    John Yates, chemistry
•    David Hill, psychology
•    Robert O'Connell, astronomy
•    Karen McGlathery, environmental science
•    Doug Taylor, biology

School of Medicine
•    Jeff Holt, neuroscience
•    Kodi Ravichandran, microbiology
•    Ira Hall, biochemistry
•    Avril Somlyo, physiology
•    Rick Horwitz, cell biology

School of Engineering and Applied Science

•    Marcel Utz, mechanical engineering
•    Joe Campbell, electrical engineering
•    Kim Hazelwood, computer science
•    Ed Botchwey, biomedical engineering
•    David Green, chemical engineering

Ex Officio:

•    Yoke San Reynolds, chief financial officer
•    Bob Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs
•    Deborah Donnelly, senior development officer for innovation and research, Office of the Vice President for Research
•    James Galloway, associate dean for research, College of Arts & Sciences
•    Peggy Shupnik, associate dean for research, School of Medicine
•    Barry Johnson, associate dean for research, School of Engineering and Applied Science