University highlights Knapp’s emphasis on research

The University showcased the research efforts of GW professors and a Harvard Shakespeare scholar Wednesday in honor of University President Steven Knapp’s inauguration.

Wednesday was one of three themed days leading up to Knapp’s inauguration Friday morning at Smith Center. In an interview, he reiterated his oft-stated goal of turning GW into a top-tier research university.

“We are among a small number of research universities in the metropolitan area, one of the largest in D.C.,” Knapp said, “But I would like to see us become a more prominent research university nationwide and become more visible as a national university.”

About 180 professors participated in Wednesday’s events.

“With our research, we want GW to contribute to solving urban problems in D.C. and throughout the world,” Knapp added.

The morning symposia included presentations from three speakers who lectured on their research in health care, cultural studies and America as a leader in sustainability.

Vanessa Northington Gamble, University professor of medical humanities, spoke about race, justice and health disparities.

“One of the things I think research can do is improve the lives of people,” Gamble said.

Frank Sesno, a professor of media and public affairs and an Emmy Award-winning CNN correspondent, said America must become a leader in developing alternative sources of energy.

“We’re still following, not leading . We can lead. The question is: Will we?”

The one scholar that spoke Wednesday not part of GW’s faculty was Stephen Greenblatt, an English professor at Harvard University and a personal friend of Knapp. Greenblatt said cultures cannot be talked about in isolation, as there is always fluidity between them. “Cultural projection is not a one-way street,” Greenblatt said.

In an e-mail sent to English majors, Jeffrey Cohen, chair of the English department, wrote that Greenblatt’s lecture “.is an important moment for all of us who work in and value the humanities. It is, to my mind, a major public acknowledgment that the humanities matter at the George Washington University.”

Knapp, who attended the professor-led lectures throughout the day, said research also has value in the classroom.

“Research gives you a tool to interact and find a solution,” he said. “It enhances teaching and makes students more excited to learn.”

Junior Tim Little, vice president of academic affairs for the Student Association, said he would like to see more undergraduate students involved in research.

“Research should become a selling point for admissions, the same way that internships are,” Little said. “Let’s add more academics as part of that selling point.”

In an afternoon lecture, professor Greg Squires talked about how the racial and social inequality in New Orleans contributed to the problems faced by evacuees after the hurricane.

“We are still a long way from saying that racial discrimination doesn’t matter,” Squires said.

The paper fell under the theme of Addressing Urban Problems. The other themes for professor presentations were the 2008 presidential election, frontiers of applied life sciences, and energy environment and sustainability.

Vincent Chappinelli, a professor of pharmacology and physiology, said he would like GW to increase its funding of research. He said Knapp’s work at Johns Hopkins where he lobbied for the creation of new buildings is exactly what GW needs.

“We need that here as well and if would be great if he could formulate a strategic plan to point us in the right direction.”

“There are many people here that do fantastic work,” Chappinelli added. “GW has a good nucleus of researching, but we have the capacity to expand that nucleus.”

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