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University investment in interdisciplinary projects pays off

Tuesday, November 14 2017 12:00am

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Ohio University’s investment in five interdisciplinary projects has yielded positive outcomes for research, student engagement and administrative operations.

The Innovation Strategy program awarded almost $100,000 in planning grants for new initiatives in early 2016. The program was created to foster and support interdisciplinary efforts throughout the full spectrum of the university’s activities—including teaching and learning, research and scholarship, creative activity and operational functions. Based on the success of the program, the university awarded $40,000 for two additional interdisciplinary projects in fall 2017.

“The Innovation Strategy planning grants provide an effective mechanism for our interdisciplinary teams to explore novel concepts and study the feasibility of launching their initiatives on a larger scale,” said Joseph Shields, vice president for research and creative activity. “These teams have leveraged these funds to attract additional internal and external resources, expand partnerships and pursue plans for growth.”

To date, planning grants from Cycle 1 of the Innovation Strategy have leveraged more than $470,000 in additional external dollars to support their initiatives.

  • A team led by Luke PittawayCollege of Business, and undergraduate students leveraged the Innovation Strategy grant to attract additional university funding and $400,000 in private donations for a new student innovation space currently planned for the Central Classroom Building. The C-Suite project, which will offer the first location on the Athens campus designed for student entrepreneurs and innovators from all academic disciplines, is slated for completion in 2018. Collaborators/Consultants: Jennifer Simon, Innovation Center; Michelle Ferrier, Scripps College of Communication; Jeffrey Giesey, Russ College of Engineering and Technology; Nathaniel Berger, College of Fine Arts; Lynn Gellermann, Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
  • A team led by Natalie KruseVoinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, organized an environmental monitoring technology symposium to advance research and partnerships among academia, industry, non-governmental organizations and government agencies. The team also surveyed households in southeastern Ohio about their awareness of and concerns about hydraulic fracturing.  In addition, researchers designed and tested environmental monitoring systems near injection wells. In the next steps of the project, the team hopes to refine and expand the use of its research equipment and launch a website that offers real-time environmental data to the public. Kruse and colleagues have attracted more than $72,000 in additional funding from the Sugar Bush Foundation to support the community engagement aspects of the project. Collaborators/Consultants: Morgan Vis-Chiasson, Jared DeForest, Amy Lynch, Dina Lopez and Kelly Johnson, College of Arts and Sciences; Andrew Alexander, Philip Campbell, Hans Kruse and Tom Hodson, Scripps College of Communication; Kevin Crist, Shawn Ostermann and Harsha Chenji, Russ College of Engineering and Technology; Jennifer Bowman, Gary Conley, Michael Zimmer and Geoffrey Dabelko, Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
  • A team led by Darlene BerrymanHeritage College of Osteopathic Medicine/College of Health Sciences and Professions, surveyed approximately 2,000 people and dozens of health care providers in rural Appalachia to obtain better data about the prevalence and treatment of diabetes. In May 2017, the team hosted a summit of academic, government and nonprofit health care entities to share data and create new partnerships that aim to improve education, outreach, prevention and care of diabetes in the region.Collaborators/Consultants: Diabetes Institute directors (Cheryl Howe of College of Health Sciences and Professions; Kathy Trace, Frank Schwartz, Karen Bailey, Melissa Standley, Karie Cook and Karen Coschigano of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine), and José Pagán, Center for Health Innovation, The New York Academy of Medicine.
  • A team led by Zaki KuruppalilRuss College of Engineering and Technology, worked with university administrative offices to implement Lean processes in order to create operational efficiencies and achieve cost savings. The University Mail Services, for example, determined that it could save 1,960 hours of staff time and 1,358 gallons of gas by redesigning its delivery routes. Overall, the project helped train university employees on process improvement and created a template that can be applied to other areas of the institution. The team is currently working with the Senior Leadership Development Program offered by Human Resources to help administrators employ the strategy further. Collaborators/Consultants: Candice Morris, Instructional Innovation; Amy Taylor-Bianco and Ana Rosado Feger, College of Business; Charee Thompson and Hugh Martin, Scripps College of Communication; Todd Myers, Russ College of Engineering and Technology; John Glazer, Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
  • A team led by Kamile GeistCollege of Fine Arts, developed a rock music camp for community children with high-functioning autism during summer 2016. The initiative also supported a study on the effect of music and movement on the stress of parents caring for infants. The team is now reporting findings to the academic community and seeking funding for a second year of the music program. The Innovation Strategy gave faculty from fine arts and medical/health disciplines an opportunity to work together for the first time and demonstrate a need and mechanism to collaborate on future endeavors. Collaborators/Consultants: Eugene Geist, Patton College of Education; Nathan Andary, Elizabeth Braun and Laura Brown, College of Fine Arts; Joann Benigno, College of Health Sciences and Professions; Timothy Law, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The new Cycle 2 planning grant recipients are:

  • The Innovation Strategy awarded $20,000 to a team led by Dawn Bikowski of the College of Arts and Sciences to study community seed saving initiatives in Athens, Ohio, and Quito, Ecuador. The team will examine community awareness and implementation of best practices for seed saving, which has been identified as a top priority of the United Nations for the promotion of food security and agricultural diversity. The project builds on existing university relationships with Community Food Initiatives and Rural Action in Athens and the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito to advance community-based research. Co-investigators on the project are Theresa Moran of the College of Arts and Sciences and Mario Grijalva of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.
  • The Innovation Strategy awarded $20,000 to a team led by Sarah Davis of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs to study the feasibility of producing bioenergy on abandoned lands.  Scientists, engineers, and economic development and policy experts will examine the market for using abandoned lands—previously used for industries such as coal mining—to cultivate biofuels or develop high-value bioproducts. The team is slated to host a workshop on the topic for academic, government, business and non-governmental organization partners at The Wilds in spring 2018. Co-investigators are Michael Held of the College of Arts and Sciences, John Staser and Mohammad Reza of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, and Derek Kauneckis and Gilbert Michaud of the Voinovich School.

For more information about the Innovation Strategy, visit