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New division will aid researchers in biomedical research

Larry Schook
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Heads up Lawrence Schook, the Gutgsell Endowed Chair and a professor of animal sciences, of pathobiology, of nutritional sciences, and pathology and of surgical oncology in the College of Medicine, examines brain scans with Suzanne Stratton, vice president of research at Carle Foundation Hospital. Schook is the director of the newly formed Division of Biomedical Sciences, which was created to support translational research on campus and foster partnerships in the medical community and with related companies.

The newly formed Division of Biomedical Sciences will begin a seminar series for researchers on campus on Oct. 13 with speaker Chand Khanna, the head of the Tumor and Metastasis Biology Section and director of the Comparative Oncology Program at the Center for Cancer Research in the National Cancer Institute.

The seminar series will be the first public event sponsored by the Division of Biomedical Sciences, which was launched in August to coalesce the biomedical research on campus, consolidate resources and engage biomedical research at Illinois more effectively with external partners.

Lawrence Schook, the Gutgsell Endowed Chair and a professor of animal sciences, of pathobiology, of nutritional sciences, and of pathology and of surgical oncology in the College of Medicine, was selected as the inaugural director of the division.

Schook led the implementation team, comprising faculty members from across campus, which consulted with campus leaders and external advisers to create a mission statement and timetable for the division, and provided recommendations on the division’s structure, how it could engage campus support, its potential programmatic activities and its staffing and space needs.

“We’re identifying several areas and trying to capture different strengths on campus – including chemistry, work in the College of Veterinary Medicine, bioengineering, nanotechnology and information science,” Schook said. “Until this time, they’ve all been discrete centers of excellence, but we haven’t done a very good job of creating alignments so we can be assured that they have utility in health care.

“Without a large medical center here, a lot of the larger companies don’t really appreciate the scope of the biomedical research that’s done on campus,” Schook said. “So one of our charges is to communicate what is happening, and target and create some strategic partnerships with appropriate industry partners. We believe that’s also happening from the industry perspective – pharmaceutical companies and health care companies are looking for strategic partners because they are trying to gain access to creativity and innovation. Up to this point, it’s always been left up to individual faculty members to do that, and we’re trying to institutionalize it as a single portal of communication to the external world.”

In a June 18 newsletter announcing the formation of the division, Provost Linda Katehi wrote: “The DBS will provide a single portal for internal and external communications and the vision and infrastructure to translate Illinois’ strengths in basic sciences and engineering into innovative solutions to issues impacting human health and our communities. Essential to this mission is the establishment of an integrated and efficient infrastructure that will enable human-centric research, capture new research opportunities and expand international visibility of our translational research. This will be achieved through robust affiliations with internal departments and units and external partners like the University of Illinois at Chicago and Carle Foundation Hospital.”

In his Strategic Plan for the Urbana campus, Chancellor Richard Herman identified translational research in biomedicine as a campus priority for the years ahead. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health designated translational research a “roadmap initiative,” an area of research that holds major opportunities for advancing medicine in the 21st century.

Schook said the division soon will issue a call for proposals to researchers on campus to identify areas ”where we could begin to work with groups and make appropriate investments.”

“Equally important, what we’ve found in our initial analyses is that we have a lot of unintentional barriers that exist,” Schook said. “They’re not money or a lack of faculty expertise. Perhaps the incentives are misaligned or the lines of communication aren’t appropriate.”

Professional development and training programs for faculty and staff members and classes for students in related areas will be another focus.

Khanna’s seminar on Oct. 13 will be the first in a number of seminars that the division will sponsor during the next year or two, Schook said. “The intent in selecting these individuals (as speakers) is to show how we can begin building such linkages ourselves in different areas.”

Khanna, who is board-certified in oncology with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and holds a doctorate in pathobiology, will speak on the topic “Informing Cancer Biology and Therapy Through a Comparative Approach.” The seminar will begin at 3 p.m. in the auditorium of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Katehi, Schook and Ravi Iyer, interim vice chancellor for research, will offer introductory remarks.

Engineering’s iFoundry looks at possible shift in curricula, teaching ‘soft skills’

To pave the way for curricula reform, the College of Engineering is forging a program based upon organizational change first.

The college recently launched iFoundry: The Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education, an interdepartmental curriculum incubator that is exploring ways to enrich and balance engineering curricula so that students develop competencies in crucial “soft skills” – such as communication and teamwork, critical and creative thinking, and ethics – in addition to math and science.

The goal of iFoundry is to shift the focus of engineering education from analysis to artifacts – products, processes and systems – and the ways in which people conceptualize and use them.

“The current engineering curriculum was established during the Cold War era and needs to be thoroughly re-examined and overhauled,” Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of the College, said in a news release announcing iFoundry. “Engineering today is unusually fast-paced and requires an uncommon blend of knowledge and skill along technological, humanistic and artistic dimensions.”

“One of the things that’s difficult about curricula change is that it is a political process, and you really have to change minds before you can get permission to change courses,” said David E. Goldberg, a professor of industrial and enterprise systems engineering and co-director of iFoundry along with Andreas Cangellaris, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Curricula change is an academic NIMBY – not in my backyard – problem. Everyone agrees it’s great, except when it comes to changing their own courses or prerequisites. The key to iFoundry is that it respects faculty governance while allowing experimental change.

“Illinois is renowned for the scientific and mathematical depth of our students, and we’re not sacrificing any of that. However, we do want students who also are better able to deal with leadership and the societal challenges of our times.”

With seed funding from the College of Engineering and the Office of the Provost, iFoundry is experimenting with enriching the existing engineering curricula with only minimal changes, disruption and cost.

Faculty members and students across campus are collaborating in the development, testing and implementation of content. Fourteen iFoundry Fellows from engineering and units across campus – including the School of Art and Design, Gender and Women’s Studies Program and the department of history – are creating videos, slide presentations and other media that explore themes often unaddressed or under-represented in current engineering courses, such as ethics, women and technology, leadership, and the creation of aesthetically pleasing, emotionally engaging, functional products.

The videos and other media are being shared with audiences worldwide in an online library called 3Space Studios. In addition to being a source of free content for use in existing or pilot courses, 3Space Studios is a mechanism for coalescing educators, students and industry partners everywhere in a grassroots exploration of curricula reform.

The majority of “hits” on the 3Space Web site and its YouTube site have been from the U.S., but “there’s been a fair amount of interest from India and France and some interest from China,” Goldberg said. “The power of something like YouTube can be pretty spectacular, and its power to reach large numbers of young people is unprecedented. We think it bodes for a ‘viral’ curricula transformation. We’re interested in changing minds and courses here at Illinois, but part of our vision is that Illinois can be a leader is using modern digital technology in aggressive ways to project new ideas around the globe.”

In addition to 3Space Studios, iFoundry has two other initiatives under way this semester: Operation Fresh, a critical examination of academics and experiences during the freshman year; and Human Artifacts, Phenomena and Interactions, a program that organizes the required 18 hours of humanities and social science electives in themes, so that students can select courses that align with their scholarly and professional aspirations.

“Students really embrace the idea of being able to choose,” Goldberg said. “We think that will be appealing and will have a great and immediate impact without having to do very much to the curricula.”

The UI also has formed a strategic alliance with Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., an innovative engineering college that opened in the fall of 2002 and currently enrolls 304 students.

Chancellor Richard Herman signed a memorandum of understanding on Sept. 12 committing the UI to working with Olin “to improve engineering education in matters such as content, curriculum, pedagogy and organizational change.”

The strategic partnership with Olin may encompass a variety of activities, such as student-faculty exchanges and meetings, Goldberg said.

 The UI and Olin are organizing a  second “Engineer of the Future” conference at Olin during the spring of 2009. The first conference was held at Illinois in fall 2007.





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