New VP hopes to jumpstart research

With just two weeks of work under his belt, the University’s first vice president for research has already begun taking steps to transform GW into a top-tier research institution.

Leo Chalupa, who began as GW’s chief research officer on April 1, has been tasked with coordinating research ventures on campus and increasing the University’s competitiveness. Chalupa’s position was created by University President Steven Knapp to increase the University’s research focus, one of Knapp’s top priorities.

On his first day at GW, the gregarious administrator said he bestowed $500 checks to medical students who won a school contest, raising the stakes of a competition that usually just awards certificates. Since then, he has met with a wide range of GW players, including faculty at the Columbian College of Arts and Science and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I want to get a lay of the land and meet the people involved,” Chalupa said.

The new office will be “a service office for faculty applying for grants,” Chalupa added. He wants to hire a full-time grant editor to review faculty requests, match opportunities at foundations and government agencies with faculty and reorganize the way research is conducted at the University.

“The idea is to make faculty grants as competitive as possible,” Chalupa said. “I want to make it paperless, make it modern, make it 21st century.”

Chalupa said he has already begun looking at the possibility of opening a research center specifically for autism, a topic he said faculty ranging from experts in education to psychology could contribute to in a campus-wide initiative. He said he created four similarly specialized centers during his time at University of California at Davis.

“We are asking, ‘How can we make ourselves uniquely qualified?’ ” Chalupa said. “We want to be able to put a GW brand on a subject.”

Chalupa, a native New Yorker, has a record of securing grants and fellowships from a wide range of foundations and government agencies. Chalupa comes from UC Davis, where he was a professor in psychology, neurophysiology and ophthalmology, co-writing three books and hundreds of journal articles.

He said GW already has a great reputation and pockets of research excellence, but that the school’s national profile is lagging behind its accomplishments.

“I think the reason they opened this office is that GW should have a higher profile,” Chalupa said.

Knapp has said Chalupa will be tasked with helping merge medical and nonmedical research. He added that the members of the search committee had been especially impressed with the range of fields Chalupa is accomplished in, including both the so-called hard and soft sciences.

“He will be pulling together research across schools, undergraduate and graduate, medical and nonmedical, into a single focus,” Knapp said. “I think he has the ability to engage students and faculty.”

Neither Knapp nor Chalupa said they thought the School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ recent two-year academic probation will hurt medical faculty’s chances at securing grants.

“I’ve been assured that it’s being taken care of,” Chalupa said.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said he has also met with Chalupa to discuss the University’s research agenda, which Katz called one of “the University’s top priorities.”

“[Chalupa] will really step up our research enterprise,” Katz said. “There are a number of things he is already looking into.”

Chalupa called it the “old hat” to have departments for research separated into subjects like biology or English, and said he favors a multifaceted approach. He noted, however, that changing the culture of research can be tricky if all of the directives come from the top.

“Administrators can never impose on the faculty and have it be successful,” Chalupa said.

He added that faculty have already begun contributing ideas and “seem to be ready” for the improvements.

“I hope the attitude is, ‘Any kind of change that raises the University’s research profile is good,’ ” he said.

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