|Research VP candidate Petell focuses on vision, goals|
Jim Petell, director of technology transfer and commercialization and executive director of the UND Research Foundation, focused on his vision and goals for research in his public talk Friday.
Petell began by discussing his background, including his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Iowa, a pre-doctoral fellowship with the NIH, and a doctorate in chemistry from University of California, San Diego. He held two post-doctoral fellowships, one with NIH and the other in cellular and molecular biology at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. He has taught at State University of New York Buffalo and spent much of his career in industry, most notably DowElanco. “My roots are based in science,” he said. “I have 60 science or patent publications.”
He came to UND to start the intellectual property office and has focused on economic development and commercialization. He secured funding through state, city, federal and private sectors to build the Center of Excellence in Life Sciences and Advanced Technologies (COELSAT) at the UND Research Foundation commercialization park.
Petell’s goals if he were named vice president for research would be to work to move UND into the top 100 research universities, help the research enterprise be embraced more broadly throughout the campus, and build new marketing opportunities to enhance the economic development of UND and the community.
Regarding moving UND into the top 100 research universities, Petell said UND is now at 117, and we’ve hit the $100 million mark in research funding. To make the goal, he said, we would have to double our funding from NIH. Grant applications to NIH, he said, currently average a 15 percent success rate, so faculty must submit around six proposals to receive funding for one. And NIH funding is expected to decrease, making it even more challenging to stay at the $100 million mark. But, he said, there are other ways to find money, and he would like to put in place a process to enhance faculty ability to get grants.
There are a number of challenging issues at UND, he said, including research funding, decreasing facilities and administration rates, the need for research seed capital, expanding research throughout campus, attracting and retaining faculty, the research infrastructure, and obtaining regional and national recognition for excellent programs.
Opportunities for UND include enhancing funding and seed money through the UND Research Foundation, corporate partnerships, and novel funding mechanisms, Petell said. For example, we could screen funding opportunities through private foundations. Other opportunities include increasing facilities and administration funds to build the research infrastructure. We could build and maintain research faculty through new undergraduate programs, shifting some teaching duties to adjunct faculty from industry, and through corporate-sponsored positions. We need, he said, to promote excellence and communicate that excellence at the local, regional, and national levels.
Petell said his vision for the position is to be unique and creative in finding funding, and to tear down traditional barriers.
He then took questions from the audience, the answers to which are summarized below.
** Petell said his definition of research is fairly broad. For example, the Indian gaming research undertaken by Kathryn Rand (law) and Steven Light (political science), which has resulted in two books and a third in progress, should be promoted more nationally, and the UND Research Foundation has built a web site to provide more information. He also cited work by Greg Gordon (law) and Wilbur Stolt (Chester Fritz Library) to move a collection of documents that record the genocide of Ethiopia to UND. He said that a web site as well as the physical documents are important internationally, and that the next logical outcome would be a documentary or movie. “This isn’t hard science,” he said. “It’s a humanitarian effort. We need to think creatively to drive the research engine.”
** In response to a question about undergraduate research, Petell said he’s a strong believer in it, and that we need to fund it. We need to build a broad mechanism and provide opportunity, training, and education, he said.
** When asked how we could double our NIH funding, Petell said NIH is not the only vehicle for increasing funding. He recommends that faculty serve on grant review boards, where they will receive information on how those board make those decisions. They can then bring the information back to campus to help others.
** Regarding his assessment of the current IT structure, Petell said that high performance computing is critical, and there is much to be done. He mentioned those in the audience involved with IT, and said we must bring the University community together to define critical core areas and improve them. “We need to know where we want to go, break down barriers, and identify needs,” he said.
** One faculty member mentioned that procedures, dates, and deadlines often don’t correspond with departmental needs; for example, a 12-month research assistant may be required to take a summer course when none are taught. Petell asked the audience how often this happens, and said that if it’s a significant problem, it needs to be addressed. He said he will prioritize issues.
** To solve problems, he said he would involve deans, directors, chairs, and faculty to find a process. “We need to communicate well,” he said.
** When asked how to make the research enterprise more broadly based, he said he would cite successful programs and educate departments. It’s not easy, he said. When another faculty member said it sounded like “trickle-down theory,” he said that it’s important to visit with departments, to show successful examples, and to work with small and large groups.
** Petell said that to find out what kind of research portfolio will move us to the top 100, he would look at other institutions. He would look at their programs, see how they receive recognition, then look at UND’s strengths to promote them.
** When asked how we could move to the top 100 research universities when we are very dependent on EPSCoR, Petell asked an audience member how much of that funding we receive. The answer: $2.5 million of $100 million total research funding. “That’s two-and-a-half percent,” he said. We can use EPSCoR to build units. When they become functional, we use the funding to build another.
** To succeed, Petell said he would develop metrics with which to evaluate progress. “It’s not easy,” he said. “We need buy-in from the University.”
** In response to a question, Petell said he’s not certain what other universities are capitalizing on research in the arts and humanities. He said we need to enhance the overall area and seek other pools of money.
** If named research VP, Petell said he would examine the process to find ways to submit more grants more effectively and see if there are ways to improve the chance of success. And he would identify key areas to build in the next five years, especially focusing on cross-disciplinary areas.
** When one faculty member said that being a top 100 research university didn’t inspire him, Petell said we need a goal and vision for the research mission.
** When asked what slogan to give the president and legislature to build research, Petell said that “We’re moving to Division I in sports. Why not do Division I research?” We need to communicate excellence, he said. We need to clearly communicate our support for research. Leadership in this is critical, he said. “We will fail without it.”
** We do need more support staff to help increase research, Petell said, but he doesn’t know how to achieve it. We must also look at becoming more efficient.
** When we build and maintain research, we need connectivity, Petell said. We need new undergraduate degree programs, which will impact research. We need stakeholders and leadership.
** The research VP should work actively with the Congressional delegation, he said. “We’re doing that now.” He said we wouldn’t have some of the corporations we do in North Dakota without a strong Congressional staff. “I can’t express how much good they’ve done.”
** When asked if he’s willing to put money into reducing teaching loads so faculty can perform more research, Petell said that he’d like to use corporate dollars in new ways to do that. For example, corporate researchers often want to teach, and could work as adjuncts to help build programs. The new research building, he said, provides a great opportunity to do just that.
Gary Johnson, interim vice president for research, added a couple of comments, including that the VP research role with the Congressional delegation is spelled out in the job description, and that the office last year distributed $50,000 to the humanities for research.
-- Jan Orvik, Writer/Editor, University Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-3621