URI’s Cluster initiative to expand research and teaching in four key areas

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KINGSTON, R.I. — April 2, 2013 — In keeping with University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley’s Transformational Goals and the University’s Academic Plan, an initiative has been launched to focus academic energy and resources on four new interdisciplinary areas of study.

In the fall semester, the University faculty and leadership will welcome four “clusters” of leading faculty from around the globe to advance inter- and multi-disciplinary teaching, learning, and research focused on challenging, emerging, and relevant societal issues that transcend traditional borders among disciplines. Events were held on March 20 and 22, to welcome some of the new faculty from two of the clusters.

“Our University has a commitment to maintaining excellence and relevance to the world in which we live. This cluster initiative brings new and exciting ways to work across disciplines to address some of the big issues and opportunities for learning and discovery in the world. We look forward to combining “clusters” of new faculty with the expertise of extant faculty in these critical areas to further strengthen URI’s position as a prominent learning-centered research university,” said Provost Donald DeHayes.

Following last year’s URI Academic Summit, the Provost’s Office established a process for academic groups to compete for funding to hire additional faculty in clusters. During the Summit, the faculty identified the cluster themes for which dozens of proposals were later reviewed by four panels of faculty. The proposals awarded for funding are: Aging and Health: Promoting Wellness Across the Lifespan; Islamic and Mediterranean Studies; Sustainable Energy for the 21st Century; and Water Resources: Blue Environment and Economy.

“The interdisciplinary focus of this initiative will enrich the learning experience of our students in critical areas of study and also advance our research competitiveness around critical societal issues. Furthermore, it allows students to learn about some of the most challenging issues of the 21st Century and allows faculty to research and teach beyond the confines of just one specific department, program, or college. This program and approach emerged from our academic planning process and builds on existing strengths of the University and priorities in the world. The result is quite exciting,” said DeHayes.

Three faculty members are being hired to work along with existing faculty in each of these areas, with related classes and research projects beginning in the fall semester.

Aging and Health: Promoting Wellness Across the Lifespan is the focus of the first initiative that was officially launched as part of the Aging and Health Week events, March 18-22. This cluster group will focus on health economics, health care policy and health disparities and the gendered, racial, and socio-cultural life course determinants of health. This cluster is led by URI Program in Gerontology Director and Professor Phillip Clark.

The Islamic and Mediterranean Studies cluster initiative welcomed some of its new faculty for a visit on March 20 and for a collaborative workshop on March 22. The new faculty and their areas of expertise are Katrin Jomaa from Lebanon, Islamic Religion and Politics; Alan Verskin, who grew up in South Africa and Canada will cover Islamic History and Culture; and Alexander Magidow from Austin, Texas, whose expertise is in Modern Standard Arabic. This cluster is being led by Professor Mike Honhart of History.

Sustainable Energy for the 21st Century

This cluster topic is focused on developing the Ocean Renewable Energy Program at the University. Being interdisciplinary by nature, the cluster has broad-ranging social and environmental implications. It will involve new expertise spanning multiple colleges, one focused on the technical aspects, one on the Environmental, and one on the Socio-economic considerations. This cluster is led by Ocean Engineering Professor Stephan Grilli.

Water and Water Resources: Blue Environment & Economy

Twenty faculty in four URI Colleges (Colleges of the Environment and Life Sciences, Engineering, Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Oceanography) and ten departments developed a proposal to hire three new faculty to help build a new interdisciplinary, trans-college collaborative known as “Water: Engineering, Science, Economics, Society.” This cluster is led by Geosciences Professor Tom Boving.

“I am thrilled that URI has been able to take such a bold step in the field of Islamic Studies,” said history Professor Michael Honhart, who led the effort to create the Islamic and Mediterranean cluster. “The cluster search has allowed four departments to become connected and to establish or expand offerings that many students from different majors have asked about. With these diverse academic resources, we now may consider developing a host of new academic tracks in multiple disciplines.” This initiative is new and exciting and serves the best interest of our students and our faculty.”