Cluster hires spark interdisciplinary collaborations

 Faculty Council Chair Mary Stromberger and Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda on the Oval. Faculty proposals helped drive the recent cluster hire initiative.

Collaboration and innovation are at the root of finding new ways to address complex challenges, and CSU aims to advance its interdisciplinary research with the help of the cornerstone part of the University’s foundation: its faculty.

In 2014, the offices of the Provost and Vice President for Research requested proposals for a faculty cluster hiring – a targeted group of new hires to help boost strategic initiatives. More than two dozen highly qualified proposals were submitted. With consultation from CSU’s Council of Deans, three were selected to split $1 million in base funding.

The three proposals were selected: Cluster hire in Aging Research; Cluster hire in Microbiomes Systems; and Cluster hire in Air Quality, Climate, and Health. Each will received roughly equal funding.

“We are strategic in our investments when it comes to developing the bricks and mortar of campus, and we should be no less strategic when it comes to growing our faculty and discovery capabilities,” said Provost Rick Miranda.

“Cluster hiring gives us the ability to make targeted faculty appointments in areas that can provide a tremendous benefit to the University when it comes to research capabilities and the success of our students,” Miranda said. “I think everyone is extremely pleased with the outcome of the cluster hire initiative and excited for the potential we’ve created for coming up with innovative ways to overcome complex challenges.”

Spaces filled with collaboration

When Colorado State University breaks ground on its new medical center, it will be with the intent to offer a full range of medical services to students, faculty, staff, and the greater community. When the facility opens in spring of 2017, it already will have innovative collaborations to fill its halls.

New physical spaces such as the medical center provides new opportunities, but without strong programs aimed at interdisciplinary innovation, the promise of a new facility can fall short of its full potential. The Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging, an outcome of the Aging Research cluster hire, will have a home in the medical center.

“The fact that people in general are living longer and longer is good news, but that also creates a need for addressing critical challenges related to age-related diseases and disabilities. Even more important, it challenges us to consider ways to promote successful, healthy aging so people can live the healthiest and most productive lives,” said Lise Youngblade, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and associate dean for strategic initiatives in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

“This cluster hire expands CSU’s capacity to conduct research through the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging to explore ways to slow the aging process and improve successful aging rather than simply treating chronic diseases. Having brand new facilities in the new medical center for the Center for Healthy Aging will provide an environment in which cross-disciplinary research can take place and innovative ideas can more easily flourish,” she said.

The awards, with anticipated matching funds from supporting colleges, will allow each cluster to hire up to six new positions. Additionally, funding of the Cluster Hire in Aging Research will support the hiring of a director for the emerging Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging. The funding of the clusters also will provide for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral training, and opportunities for outreach programs and new external partnerships.

The cluster hire effort highlights CSU’s strategic investment into areas that contribute to not only the University’s reputation for excellence, but its commitment to student success, and carrying out its land-grant mission.

Providing an avenue for faculty to put forward new ideas is a strength of the cluster-hire initiative, said Mary Stromberger, chair of Faculty Council at CSU and professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

“This was a great opportunity for faculty to present their ideas on future hires,” Stromberger said. “It was exciting to see faculty work together across disciplines and plan creatively and strategically for new opportunities. I hope this initiative will stimulate faculty and their students to work and learn across disciplinary silos.”