GW looks to launch 10 research centers

In a bid to become a top-tier research institution, the University is moving forward with its efforts in six separate areas of research and will add four more to its plate.

In September, Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa named autism, computational biology, science policy, energy, sustainability, and neglected diseases as six areas in which the University planned to create research centers. Today, these projects stand at various levels of completion, and four additional research center initiatives in the areas of the global status of women, the arts, cancer, and global security have been added.

“In each case, the key is we want to be a place of excellence in those endeavors,” Chalupa said. “The aim is, I want people around the nation to say, ‘GW is an outstanding autism center. GW has an outstanding computational biology center.’ “

The autism center, which is expected to utilize several University departments in its research, is on track with its timeline, according to Dr. Valerie Hu, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.

“It’s moving forward in that on March 1 there’s going to be a review of the strategic plan,” Hu said. If this review by an outside group is positive, the center can begin looking for a director, Hu said.

Hu said autism will also be a focus of this year’s “Research Day” in March, which will feature a keynote speaker on autism and developmental disabilities, as well as a panel discussion on autism with faculty from multiple departments.

As the center moves forward, fundraising will be key to its success, Hu said.

“We are definitely going to have some serious fundraising because it is not cheap to start an institute,” Hu said.

Chalupa called the autism center a large undertaking and noted some issues still need to be worked out.

“There are important issues to resolve,” Chalupa said. “Like where it’s going to be. How much it’s going to cost. Where are we going to get the money?”

Mark Starik, professor of strategic management and public policy and one of the co-chairs of the committee assisting in the development of the sustainability center, said the committee has sent a report to Chalupa advocating for urban sustainability research.

“The initiative group met several times and did a report and sent it to him on Monday,” Starik said.

Starik said the final form of the initiative is uncertain because a number of institutes and centers related to sustainability already exist at the University, and it is possible that some of these organizations could be combined or advanced.

Chalupa said he had just received the report from the committee looking at the computational biology initiative and planned to share it with members of the University’s senior leadership soon. Space may be available at the Virginia campus to house the initiative, although that does not necessarily mean it will be located there, he said.

Committees have also been formed recently to examine the science policy and global status of women initiatives, while a committee for the energy initiative is expected by the spring.

The decision to add the additional four initiatives was made “after conferring with deans and various campus leaders to broaden the scope of our research/scholarly efforts,” Chalupa said in an e-mail.

Despite the University’s focus on these initiatives, Chalupa said he is also involved with other areas, including the recruitment of new faculty, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Jones.

“I don’t want to give the impression that that’s all this office is interested in,” Chalupa said in reference to the research centers. “I’m interested in excellence at GW.”

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