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UC Office of Research Announces First Transdisciplinary Research Leadership Program Awardees


Nine UC colleges are taking part in the new and innovative year-long collaboration that pairs promising scholars with distinguished faculty mentors.

Date: 3/28/2017 12:00:00 AM
By: Elissa Yancey
Phone: (513) 556-4350
Photos By: Provided

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After a competitive university-wide application process, six promising scholars from six University of Cincinnati colleges have been selected to work alongside three distinguished mentors from three additional colleges as part of a first-ever transdisciplinary leadership class, the Office of Research announced. The inaugural cohort of what will become an annual program will begin meeting in fall 2017.

Trans-disciplinary research is defined as research that applies techniques from disparate disciplines to create new, innovative approaches to solving common and often systemic global problems. It encourages disciplinary experts to reach beyond traditional academic silos to build productive partnerships with peers who think, and work, differently.

For example, newly named scholar Ann Black, an associate professor in the College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, included a biomedical engineering doctoral student on a project she led at the Live Well Collaborative working with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital exploring ways to motivate kids confined in hospitals to take better care of themselves. Black said learning biomedical methodologies and insights fueled the class’ ultimate success: together, they created a novel device that encouraged young patients to bathe, brush their teeth and remain as mobile as possible during their hospital stays. 

The six scholars for the Office of Research’s Trans-Disciplinary Research Leadership Program were selected based on their leadership potential as well as their dedication to working across disciplines to find innovative approaches to problem-solving research. Once the scholars were selected, three distinguished faculty were recruited based on their subject-matter expertise as well as their capacity to serve as mentors and potential research partners.

“We know that the future of research—and research funding—relies on bringing together an inspired group of researchers and practitioners with a wide range of expertise,” said Pat Limbach, PhD, Ohio Eminent Scholar and the Vice President for Research at the University of Cincinnati. “At the University of Cincinnati, we’ve long understood the power of trans-disciplinary collaborations, and we’ve encouraged our faculty to connect across traditional academic divides. With this new year-long leadership development initiative, we are going a step further and allocating financial and human resources to help them do just that.”

Trans-disciplinary scholars will not only receive a financial award to support their projects, they will also be afforded reduced teaching requirements for the year. The course release illustrates that the scholars’ home colleges are literally invested in breaking through university silos, and will reward faculty who take leadership roles in forging new collaborations.

“It’s very easy to spend your entire academic career immersed in your subject matter and little else,” Limbach said. “What we are finding, more and more, is that faculty are hungry for opportunities to think outside their own subject area ‘bubbles’ and learn new tools and approaches to research. I see it as our duty to our faculty and our community to provide them with real opportunities to create research projects that keep them excited and engaged as they offer new ways of looking at persistent problems in our local community and the world.”

The Office of Research has invested $140,000 in the new leadership development program; and participating colleges have granted course-release support in both fall and spring to scholars selected to participate.

Inaugural class of trans-disciplinary leadership scholars:

Ann Black, associate professor in the school of Architecture and Interior Design in the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning
Black has served as a college and University-wide leader while shepherding her interior design students to international recognition and helping shape an advanced degree program set to launch within the next two years. She has spent years working across design disciplines and is currently part of a National Science Foundation proposal in collaboration with the College of Engineering and Applied Science aimed at creating safer, healthier home environments for seniors.

Dominic Boccelli, associate professor in the department of biomedical, chemical and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Science
Since joining the faculty in 2007, Boccelli has continually sought out ways to connect varied academic disciplines and a wide range of practicing professionals to develop a comprehensive approach to managing and protecting water resources. He has led an international team of nine educational institutions focused on solutions for urban water infrastructure; and he initiated and has helped build the University’s cross-college approach for a Water Center, an initiative that received funding to hire new researchers working as part of trans-disciplinary teams. 

Bain Butcher, MD, MFA, associate professor in the College of Medicine and the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning
With one of the most distinctive joint appointments at the University of Cincinnati, Butcher is a professor in both the College of Medicine and the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. Since he joined the faculty in 2014, he has continued his discipline-specific work in both fine art and medicine and has developed what he identifies as the third space in between them. This third space work reflects his belief that creative, collaborative, trans-disciplinary methods can yield unexpected solutions to complicated problems. Additionally, he is the co-director of the University’s Social Innovation Lab, a project he helped initiate, where faculty, researchers and students focus on the challenges of health, wellness and sustainability by integrating art, design, humanities, science and medicine.

Lorin Parker, assistant professor of electronic media in the College-Conservatory of Music
Parker studies the intersections of technology, social sciences, creative arts and education by using makerspace and maker culture as his laboratory. Since joining the College-Conservatory of Music as an acoustics and audio specialist, he has built innovative research partnerships with collaborators in the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services and the College of Arts and Sciences; he also received funding to create a MakerSpace Media Lab to expand experiential learning options for students and create sustainable community connections. His current inquiry seeks to connect technology with psychological perception; creative use and experience of technology can support human understanding and wellness. His work focusing on the relationship between technology and wellness earned him a 2016 “Rising Star in Health Research Award.” 

Vicki Plano Clark, associate professor of research methods in the College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services
Plano Clark, who joined CECH in 2012, has a strong history of interdisciplinary collaborations with researchers in education, nursing, public heath, physics, counseling psychology and family sciences, including projects which have received funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, among others. Her methodological work has already established her as an interdisciplinary leader in mixed methods research. 

Peng Zhang, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences and adjunct in the materials science and engineering program in the College of Engineering and Applied Science
With appointments in two colleges and a track record of funded interdisciplinary projects, Zhang understands the potential of sensors and nanoparticles in medical diagnoses, antimicrobial alternatives to antibiotics and even cancer treatments. Beyond that, he has actively sought out and led collaborations with research partners across the University of Cincinnati campus because of his commitment to working and learning across disciplines to create novel solutions to critical world problems.

Inaugural class of trans-disciplinary leadership distinguished mentors:

Mike Magazine, professor of operations and business analytics and information systems at the Lindner College of Business and an Ohio Eminent Scholar
Magazine has served as the Associate Dean for Faculty and Research and the Interim Dean in the College of Business. He has served on the editorial boards of most of the major journals in management science and operations research and is the Co-Editor of Quantitative Models in Supply Chain Management. Besides teaching Sports by the Numbers and Bracketology, he has worked on sports scheduling and analytics with several organizations and been interviewed many times on local television for his work on sports analytics.

Suzanne Boyce, professor in communication sciences/disorders at the College of Allied Health Sciences
Boyce, an award-winning researcher who received her PhD in linguistics from Yale, specializes in helping other researchers as well as the general public (especially caregivers) understand the nature of speech. She has spent years working to develop technology to help others identify speech patterns so they can better diagnose, treat and provide therapy for patients.

David Freeman, associate professor of mathematics at UC Blue Ash
While Freeman teaches mathematics, he double-majored in mathematics and visual arts as an undergraduate. He researches geometric function theory and metric geometry, which has led to an integration of his interests in patterns in numbers and in art.