Society, Water, and Climate

By Guest Blogger: Andrea Brunelle, Chair, Department of Geography

The University of Utah currently has faculty members conducting research in the areas of society, water and climate; however, our faculty themselves identified this area as a research focus where some strategic hires could transform our productivity.
With support from the university administration we identified this nexus of research areas as an opportunity for the development of a research cluster. Enhancing our strength in this area at the University of Utah will allow us to contribute to solving important issues facing the Western US and many other regions around the world. Growing stronger in this area also means that we will broaden our ability to train undergraduates and graduates to lead society towards sustainable water solutions in a changing world.

Society, Climate, WaterWater is the key limiting resource for human development and for ecological and agricultural productivity in the Western US, and in many parts of the world. Climate change, water availability, and air quality are closely linked. Climate change will bring increased temperatures combined with likely increases in the severity, frequency, and duration of weather extremes, such as droughts and floods. Changes in water availability due to climate change will be further complicated by use of water for agriculture, changes in land use, and population growth. Elevated temperatures can also increase the production and concentration of photochemical oxidants, which has serious implications for human health. Furthermore, increased air pollution can affect the longevity of snowpack which affects water storage and resources. Climate change will have important ecological impacts, including changes in species distribution and ecosystem function, insect disturbance, and wildfire activity. Emissions from wildfires adversely impact air quality in downwind locations. In many regions of the world, issues centered on climate change and water availability will profoundly shape society in the next century. Addressing these issues requires a focused, transdisciplinary effort from scientists with expertise in society, water and climate.

Eight departments (Geology & Geophysics, Geography, Economics, Political Science, Atmospheric Sciences, Anthropology, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Biology) from four colleges (College of Social and Behavioral Science, College of Science, College of Mines and Earth Science, and College of Engineering) are collaborating on these hires.

Nearly 400 applicants applied for the five advertised positions. Twelve on-campus interviews are currently underway. After our first round of colleagues are hired we plan to hold a retreat with folks from across campus to map our path forward with regards to developing a roadmap for taking advantage of new funding opportunities and on campus collaborative efforts. We will follow the lead of the Families and Health Cluster and bring in leaders in the field to nucleate the existing and new researchers on campus around the planned initiatives.

More information about the cluster and positions can be found at: http://www.utah.edu/faculty/swc/.
Sustainability Showcase

Accreditation

Welcome back for Spring 2015! I hope that you were able to enjoy a restorative and healthy break, and that you begin the new year with renewed enthusiasm for all that is ahead at the U.

One major effort underway is preparation for the university-wide accreditation review that will take place in 2015-16. The current task is developing a comprehensive self-study report that characterizes the major accomplishments and aims of our entire institution, with a particular focus on how we evaluate our efforts and outcomes, and use evaluation as a tool for continuous improvement.

AVP Martha Bradley Dean Dave KiedaAssociate Vice President Martha Bradley and Graduate School Dean Dave Kieda are co-chairing a team with representatives from across the university tasked with developing this comprehensive narrative of the goals, achievements, challenges and plans of the U. Here’s a summary of team members and their task (charge letter). Accreditors will visit the campus in 2015-16, and will be interested in talking with faculty, students and staff during that visit.

Our accreditation report builds on four broad goals of the campus to organize discussion of our major efforts to advance the university. These four goals are:

• Enhance Student Success to Transform Lives
• Generate New Knowledge and Discovery
• Improve Health and Quality of Life
• Ensure Long-Term Viability of the University

We are planning opportunities to talk with the campus community about these goals in Spring 2015, hoping to hear from you about major activities underway and anticipated in your units that connect and contribute to these goals.

The self-study is a community-wide, open document, and drafts will be made available to the Academic Senate, Council of Academic Deans, and general community for feedback in the mid-Spring Semester. (self-study website)

We aim to have the self-study finalized during summer semester 2015. It will then be publicly available of the web.

I would like to extend special thanks to Marti and Dave for their leadership of the accreditation effort on behalf of our campus, and to all members of the self-study team. Self-study is rarely an easy undertaking; when it’s done right, though, the benefits are many. It informs all of us about where we excel, and where and how we can take action to improve the university.

My warm appreciation to all who work every day to strengthen the U, and my best wishes for 2015.

Families and Health Transformative Cluster

By Guest Blogger: Cynthia Berg, Dean, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences

The central idea of the Families and Health Research cluster is that the family system can be used as a vehicle to improve the health and health care of individuals across the full life-span (from infancy into late adulthood). An interdisciplinary group of scholars began to see that this idea was right for the University of Utah as it built on the strengths in multiple colleges (Social and Behavioral Science, Humanities, Health, Medicine) and the Huntsman Cancer Institute. In addition, it was an ideal fit with the local context in Utah, where families are large and multigenerational and valued as important resources for health and well-being.

GroupThe investigators in this group were successful in doing NIH funded research on family issues from understanding genetic and environmental risk factors for chronic disease within the Utah Population Data Base to state of the art observational methods for understanding family processes in the development of disease and in managing chronic illnesses. But there was a need for greater expertise in complex methodologies to capture the intricacies of family members, to develop interventions to use the full potential of the family, to disseminate and implement such interventions, and to more fully capture the cultural and demographic diversity of Utah families.

After the proposal was awarded (May 30th), this group quickly assembled in the summer months to prioritize hires, finalize job advertisements, and secure departmental partners. The group kicked off the fall semester with a brown bag attended by nearly 100 faculty members, postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students where the benefit of a multi-systems approach to the study of families and health was introduced.

Dr. Rena RepettiThis energy was carried forward in October, where the group held a kick-off conference with invited speaker Dr. Rena Repetti, a Clinical Health Psychologist from UCLA. She demonstrated how an intense look at the everyday life of families can yield insights as to how families facilitate health. The event was followed by a research mixer where faculty and graduate students rapidly presented their work on aging, family processes, and coping with chronic illness. The mixer event was an important catalyst for scholars to chart out common interests and brainstorm about research ideas for upcoming proposals to NIH. Further, a graduate student interest group has formed to share ideas and a BLOCK-U proposal has been approved for undergraduates in the fall of 2015.

In December our first candidates come in for interviews and we are excited for the possibilities of these faculty hires. The energy, excitement, and motivation of this group confirms that this is a cluster that will be transformative. Members of this group understand at both a professional and personal level the power of the family in maintaining positive health and adapting to chronic illness (see http://www.utah.edu/faculty/c-fahr/).

U Opens New Asia Campus in Partnership with Korean Government

By Guest Blogger: Mike Hardman, Chief Global Officer

Following six years of exploration, discussions, and negotiations, the U officially opened its Asia Campus (UAC) in Incheon, South Korea on September 1, 2014. The Opening Ceremony, held in conjunction with European partner Ghent University Belgium, featured an inspirational presentation from President Pershing, a welcome video from the U main campus to the inaugural cohort of UAC students, accolades from Korean dignitaries, and a western style barbeque complete with burgers, fries, U cowboy hats, and line dancing.

Asia Campus

The U is a founding member of the Incheon Global Campus (IGC) along with Ghent University, the State University of New York-Stony Brook, and George Mason University. Saint Petersburg Conservatory in Russia joins the IGC in 2015. The IGC, located within in the Songdo International Smart City, will eventually be home to 10 universities and 10,000 students. Along with President David W. Pershing and Dr. Sandi Pershing, the new UAC students were greeted by Utah State Senator Stephen Urquhart, Representative Keith Grover, Representative Eric Hutchings, as well as many U leaders, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Asian Campus students

The small, enthusiastic, and highly qualified initial cohort of UAC students, including six from the main campus, is joined at the IGC by eight U faculty members, the UAC leadership, as well as academic and operations staff. The campus is the first of its kind in the state of Utah and will eventually become home to 1500 undergraduate and 500 graduate students who will spend at least one year of their academic experience in Salt Lake City at the main campus. Fall classes are now underway with all freshman students participating in the Global Citizenship Block U General Education Program. The first undergraduate degree programs include Communication (emphasis in media), Psychology, and Social Work. The Master of Public Health Degree is the first graduate program.

Application for Spring and Fall 2015 are open, and student recruitment initiatives within Asia, Europe, and the U.S. are in full swing. Additional (and very interesting) campus information (including admissions, programs, faculty, and student living and learning support services) can be found at www.asiacampus.utah.edu.

The U’s Distinctive Mission

Annika Pecchia-Bekkum

As a new leader in University of Utah’s academic community, I am often asked what has surprised me about the U, or how the U differs from other higher education institutions that I know. The question was on my mind this past week when I heard that one of our honors undergraduates, Annika Pecchia-Bekkum, was chosen as a Gates Cambridge Scholar, a highly prestigious recognition that will support her medical science graduate work at Cambridge. And it was on my mind when I met Teresa, an immigrant, first-generation undergraduate at the U, who is raising her adolescent children and working full-time in a key role in the local community, while gradually pursuing her dream of a baccalaureate degree. It was on my mind when I read about discoveries in Bioengineering and the Scientific Computing Institute that reveal ways to optimize blood vessel growth, research that, long term, may have implications for improving vascular function for individuals with heart disease and diabetes. And it was on my mind when I visited Continuing Education and came to understand the significance of the U’s presence in offering college-credit courses in Murray, Sandy, and Bountiful, as well as in supporting the English Language Institute, which has enabled thousands of learners – newcomers to our community from around the world with a wide range of personal stories and circumstances – to gain English language proficiency sufficient to enable further education and full participation in the workforce.

So, what is it that differentiates the University of Utah? The U is a world-class research university, with path-breaking discoveries underway every day that address our most significant societal challenges in health, energy, education, environment, and beyond. At the same time, the U is an educational gateway for first-generation college students, with about 40 percent of our undergraduate degree earners becoming the first in their families to complete the baccalaureate. The U provides a context where the brightest, most promising, top achieving 18-year-olds participate in class alongside 50-year-old adults with wisdom and perspective earned through remarkable life experiences, where refugees to the U.S. learning English can ultimately move into the university and into roles in research laboratories, where we create and embrace educational opportunities for undergraduates who juggle heavy work and family responsibilities with their educational agenda. Sometimes the balance between these roles is a little uneasy, as we strive to offer courses and programs at times and in ways that meet many urgent needs, for example. Yet, our role as both an educational gateway and a world-class research university creates an extraordinary university, one that that lends deep benefit to society through access and meaningful participation in high quality education for a remarkably wide range of people and generates knowledge that improves quality of life and the human condition.

This indeed differentiates the U from nearly all of our Pac-12 peers and certainly from other research-intensive universities across the nation. Our role as an educational gateway is striking and is celebrated alongside our achievements as a top-tier research engine and as a university-of-choice for the highest achieving high school students. There are unique opportunities and challenges created in an environment that combines these elements. We are committed to creating a path of excellence across these arenas and to leveraging our unique features to advantage the University of Utah as we move forward as a university of national prominence and distinction.

Our Remarkable Talent

Within the past few weeks, I had the privilege of attending Governor Herbert’s annual celebration of achievement in science, recognizing Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Henry White as a recipient of the Governor’s Medal of Science and Technology.

Chemistry Professor Henry White, recipient of the Governor’s Medal of Science and Technology

Henry White

I also spoke to a group of student leaders from the Pac-12 attending a conference here that showcased the excellence of our campus, made possible by the efforts by our ASUU leaders, Sam Ortiz and Sara Seastrand.

Sara Seastrand and Sam Ortiz

Sara Seastrand and Sam Ortiz

Four exceptional faculty members were named Distinguished Teachers for 2014: Jeff Metcalf (English), Christine Jones (Languages & Literature), Joel Harris (Chemistry), and Vincent Cheng (English). And, we celebrate the success of Stacy Ackerlind, a member of the Student Affairs team, who received the outstanding mid-level professional award from NASPA, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. Every day the U is alive with opportunities for intellectual enrichment, bringing together campus and community, thanks to the exceptional efforts of various leaders. The events and speakers celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King were extraordinary, as are the Tanner Lectures on Human Values (Andrew Solomon in Fall 2013, and Anna Deavere Smith just a couple weeks ago). The 2014 lecture series hosted by the Natural History Museum of Utah will bring exceptional talent to our campus. This is just a small sample of what is available to all of us through the dedicated efforts of many creative leaders who make these events happen.The core, the heart, of a university is its people. Our success and influence rest on the accomplishments and innovation of our faculty, staff and students. I am pleased to say that the University of Utah is well positioned to accelerate in achievement and recognition, due to your efforts. To all who are striving to achieve at the highest levels in your work, please accept my deepest gratitude. You make the U great.