Putting the Discovery Themes to work
By Jeff McCallister
Jeff Thomas looks out his back window every morning when he wakes and is reminded how good it makes him feel to be doing something he considers to be of worldwide importance.
Thomas, whose family owns more than 100 acres of prime farmland near Convoy in Northwest Ohio, has leased a small piece of his land to be a part of the Blue Ridge Wind Farm owned by Iberdrola Renewables and located on an 80-square-mile area that hosts more than 150 wind turbines.
Thomas calls the one on his plot “my gentle giant.”
“It feels good to be a part of something that you can say will improve life on this planet for generations,” said Thomas, whose Lincoln Ridge Farm, aside from being a working farm, also serves as a seasonal recreation and tourist spot.
It was appropriate, then, that Thomas hosted a group of Ohio State students and faculty earlier this month as they toured the wind farm for an up-close look at what kind of potential their work can hold.
The trip was a perfect way to highlight what Ohio State can accomplish in its Discovery Themes — perhaps the most ambitious academic effort the university has ever undertaken.
The themes, as announced by Executive Vice President and Provost Joe Alutto, represent areas that already are strengths at OSU: Health and Wellness, Food Production and Security, and Energy and the Environment. The university will invest $400 million — bringing in 500 new tenured or tenure-track faculty — over the next 10 years and make those areas a primary focus of university-wide teaching, research and engagement.
“Tackling these sweeping challenges is possible only at a university the size and complexity of Ohio State because breakthroughs in such areas are not possible without multiple perspectives and sources of expertise,” Alutto said. “Here, interdisciplinary teams of faculty experts can be readily assembled to cooperate in developing solutions to the long-term issues that touch all human beings everywhere.”
As leaders of Iberdrola Renewables led the tour of the facility, they constantly stressed that the company relies on research to keep improving the efficiency of the wind-power process.
Experts at Ohio State are working on everything from improving the blade material to studying the turbines’ effect on local wildlife to policy decisions and community dynamics — truly a transinstitutional effort.
Working that way — imaginatively and collaboratively — is what the Discovery Themes are all about.
Among the first steps to implement the Discovery Themes was to assemble a leadership team for each theme that includes a faculty advisory board made up of outstanding scholars who are committed to the value of interdisciplinarity. These boards will ensure that faculty perspectives are always present and an integral part of the initiative.
But other structures and processes are expected to emerge and evolve over time, and that’s part of the difference between this initiative and earlier efforts like the Targeted Investments in Excellence and the Centers for Innovation. Unlike those programs which were completely structured before they were launched, the Discovery Themes are, by design, a work in progress to allow the university community to “own” them.
But that doesn’t mean they are lacking in structure or metrics to evaluate them. Alutto has described specific markers that will identify the success of the program: An increase in the number of faculty in critical areas; increase in extramural funding; expanded link to the commercial and private sectors; development of transformational solutions to the technological, social, and environmental challenges of today’s global world; and international recognition that Ohio State is the go-to institution for those solutions.
For more, see discovery.osu.edu.
The Faculty Advisory Boards are now working to identify areas of global challenge that might be targets for Discovery Themes faculty recruitment. Members of those teams are:
Health and wellness
Leadership: Dean of Veterinary Medicine Lonnie King, Dean of Nursing Bernadette Melnyk, and Senior Vice President for Health Sciences Steven Gabbe.
Faculty advisory board: Matthew Allen (Veterinary Clinical Sciences), Dawn Anderson-Butcher (Social Work), Kimberly Arcoleo (Nursing), John Barnard (Pediatrics), Martha Belury (HumanSciences), Prosper Boyaka (Veterinary Biosciences), Ching-Shih Chen (Pharmacy), Keith Gooch (Biomedical Engineering), Tina Henkin (Microbiology), Marilee Martens (Psychology, Newark), Scott McCoy (Music), Peter Mohler (Internal Medicine), Donald Mutti (Optometry), Ellen Peters (Psychology), Linda Saif (Veterinary Preventive Medicine), Larry Schlesinger (Microbial Infection and Immunity), Steven Schwartz (Food Science and Technology), John Walters (Dentistry), Peter Ward (Management Sciences), and Thomas Wickizer (Public Health).
Energy and the Environment
Leadership: David Williams, dean of Engineering; Peter March, divisional dean of Natural and Mathematical Sciences; and Vice President and Enterprise Executive for Energy and the Environment Ronald Sega.
Faculty advisory board: David Bromwich (Geography), Cinnamon Carlarne (Law), David Cole (Earth Sciences), Katrina Cornish (Horticulture and Crop Sciences), Prabir Dutta (Chemistry and Biochemistry), Ellen Mosley-Thompson (Geography), Steve Ringel (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Giorgio Rizzoni (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), Johnny Rungtusanatham (Management Sciences), P. Sadayappan (Computer Science and Engineering), Caroline Wagner (John Glenn School of Public Affairs), Linda Weavers (Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering), and Barbara Wolfe (Veterinary Preventive Medicine).
Food Production and Security
Leadership: Bruce McPheron, dean of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences; Christine Poon, dean of the Fisher College of Business; and Patrick Osmer, vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School.
Faculty advisory board: Christopher Baker (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Terri Bucci (Teaching and Learning, Mansfield), Jill Clark (John Glenn School of Public Affairs), Keely Croxton (Marketing and Logistics), Frank De Lucia (Physics), Mark Failla (Human Sciences), Erich Grotewold (Molecular Genetics), Casey Hoy (Entomology), Ken Lee (Food Science and Technology), Jeffrey LeJeune (Veterinary Preventive Medicine), Linda Lobao (Environment and Natural Resources), Sudhir Sastry (Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering), and Thomas Wittum (Veterinary Preventive Medicine).