|VP research candidate Shah focuses on UND's future|
UND is at a unique juncture and could move up to the next level, said Sadiq Shah, associate vice president for research and economic development at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green and a candidate for vice president for research and economic development at UND.
Shah said that, based on his research, UND has a number of core assets and competencies, and with a new president and other administrators, the pieces of the puzzle are in place for the University to move up. And he would like to help UND fulfill those aspirations.
Shah earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and master’s in inorganic chemistry from the University of Peshawar in Pakistan, his master’s in physical-inorganic chemistry from the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, another master’s in physical chemistry from Washington State University, and his doctorate in physical-inorganic chemistry, also from WSU.
He began his career in the corporate world as a senior research chemist for Petrolite Corp. in St. Louis from 1986 to 1991, and spent 16 years “on the bench” performing research and technology, and eventually management, for a company that was then part of Merck Pharmaceuticals in St. Louis. After a number of buyouts, it is now Steris Corp. Shah worked in product development, wound management, Calgon Vestal Laboratories, and surface technologies and hard surface product development at levels from group leader to manager there. He said he and his teams developed new products from planning to launch. He moved to academe in 2001 when he was named founding director of the technology transfer office at Western Illinois University. In 2003 he was given additional responsibilities as director of the Western Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network. While there, he helped create 23 startups that included education and mentoring plans. In 2006 he was named to his present position at Western Kentucky, where he also serves as CEO and chair of the board of directors for their research foundation. There, he worked with deans and others to create a shared dream that became a 20-year plan to support growth.
Shah took questions from the audience, which are summarized below:
In response to a question about undergraduate student research, Shah said that he has a broad definition of research that includes creative activities. When he joined Western Kentucky, their Sigma Xi research conference had around 50 to 60 students participating. He worked with others to develop a program that would engage more students in hands-on research, and this year 182 students participated in the undergrad research conference, which included graphic design and Spanish as well as more traditional research subjects. Shah said he would love to engage more undergraduates, and said we need to create more platforms so they can gain research experience and help solve society’s problems. “That experience brings confidence, communication skills, and opens their eyes,” he said, and differentiates them in the work force and makes them more competitive. In a global market, corporations have international teams, and research is a good way for students to experience diversity and increase their skills.
Although a chemist by background who drifted to the business and legal side of industry, Shah said that at heart he is an entrepreneur, and that entrepreneurship is the nexus of intellectual property. He said he would like students to have the skills to translate ideas to reality, to change society, to think outside the box, and increase the quality of life. He said that at Western Illinois, he saw such an opportunity and brought research-producing areas such as science and engineering together with the business college to build an interdisciplinary entrepreneurship course. When he left, six student-based businesses were operating.
Shah said he would encourage and facilitate faculty-based spinoffs while following policies, procedures, and the law.
Research results can be defined loosely as ideas and services as well as products, Shah said. It could have unique intellectual properties that have utility for society, and one could, he said, facilitate the transfer of that knowledge to users in ways that no one else can, and use it to help people. He said the majority of his research experience is with commerce.
Shah said he does not devalue research that is published in books and journals rather than being commercialized, and in cases where contracts and terms specify that work be accessible to all, he will ensure that happens. However, he said, legally, he would license the work to ensure it is not vulnerable to others.
He said he has no intentions to commercialize traditional liberal arts research, and that it makes sense to leave that in the public domain so that others can benefit from it. He said he would encourage faculty to engage students in research. “We owe it to them as future leaders of society to give them this wonderful opportunity,” he said, citing passion, drive, and curiosity that can engage students.
To support research, Shah said he would use incentives, as well as create a platform where, for example, musicians, computer scientists, and mathematicians can talk to each other. “There is a beauty to bringing different disciplines together,” he said.
In response to a comment that the above idea sounded more like an academic affairs initiative than a research one, Shah said he had no such intentions, but would work closely with the provost. He said he wants to engage students and encourage collaboration between disciplines where possible.
Every faculty member, staff member and student is an important core asset of the University, Shah said, and he would never overlook anyone or any research. You never know when that spark of discovery will happen, he said. And you learn the most when you expect one result and get another.
Humanities play an important role in our lives as human beings, Shah said in response to a question about how he would support that area, and help ensure that an enriching and fulfilling life. “Fulfillment can’t be met with just research. Humanities and art play an important role.” He said he also has an artistic background, and science and engineering can impact the arts and humanities, which in turn impact society. They interface and affect us. “I’m not here to tell faculty they need to do research. I’m here to support them.”
To help proposals succeed, Shah said he would implement incentives and offer services such as mentoring and budget aid to facilitate them. He said he would implement programs to recognize people. He said he has created a dozen awards, including one for the person who has submitted the most proposals, and it was given to someone who had not yet received any funding. However, that person did have a successful proposal the next year.
Regarding public scholarship, Shah said he would link with partners and involve students in focusing on discovery, creativity, and the application of knowledge to solve problems of society and improve lives.
Until he has created a shared vision, Shah said that prioritizing would be difficulty. “First you focus on consensus and a shared vision,” he said. “What is our dream?” You make it happen and I will support you, he said. Then he said he would look at the impact of ideas on departments, students, and the community.
Regarding the possibility of developing a program in which faculty are paid a salary to write and think over the summer, Shah said he would have to first take a look at his portfolio, assess the situation, and visit with people. He said he has to leverage money to advance the institution, but is not philosophically opposed to the idea if it makes sense.
One audience member asked Shah how he would create a shared vision. Shah said that in 1993, when he was doing corporate work in St. Louis, members of the American Chemical Society approached him and asked him to run for chair. He agreed, but wanted to make a difference. He wanted to create some unique programs in the society, so he identified individuals to meet, had conversations, and matched interests and competencies with the projects. He said that he had no influence in the organization, and no incentives, but that he was able to find key leaders for more than 20 projects. “We did this together,” he said, with buy-in and support. He said he would do the same thing here.
Regarding his vision for UND, Shah said he has some initial ideas, which he would need to confirm if he were to get the job, and then move forward. “Opportunities exist here,” he said, in bioengineering, medical devices, the possibility of clinical studies in rural areas, telemedicine, and aerospace. He said he would collaborate with corporations where it makes sense, identify opportunities, link core competencies with corporations, and form joint ventures that can create jobs. “Corporations could move here because of the University,” he said, which would lead to an increased tax base and more economic development.
In answer to a question regarding the issue of autonomous research versus a university being an agent of business, Shah said, “My intention is to plant seeds. It’s up to the campus community to decide to nurture the seeds, or if they make sense. I don’t create the dream – you do. I want to create a vision together that becomes our dream.” Shah added that not every part of the research position has the goal of creating start-ups. Our mission is teaching, research, and service, he said, but the expectation, like it or not, is that university research impacts the economy, provides a skilled work force, and supports economic development. He reiterated that the University community is the driving force that will determine the vision of the University.
Shah said that we in higher education are here to prepare the next generation to be responsible, productive citizens who increase the quality of life for everyone. “Education is the driving force for democracy,” he said.
About his vision for research, Shah said that economic development is only one piece, and research is another. Research is an engine for education, and some of it will never affect economic development, he said. “That’s fine.” We can find ways to nurture research and benefit society.
-- Jan Orvik, Writer/Editor, University Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-3621