University of Arizona Provost Meredith Hay announced this week two major initiatives that will provide $12 million for faculty hiring in the field of environmental science, engineering and policy and the field of translational medicine at the UA.
Developed in alignment with the UA's ongoing Transformation process, which aims to reorganize the University to build on its strengths in strategic areas, the initiatives will allow for growth in two disciplines in which the University already shows significant promise, according to campus leaders.
"By hiring rising stars in a few critical areas, the idea is that we'll multiply the success of these two groups," said Leslie Tolbert, vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development, who is charged with administering $6 million in funds to each area over a three-year period.
The initiatives have the potential to significantly enhance the UA's strengths in the field of environmental science, engineering and policy and the field of translational medicine, both of which have major societal relevance today, say University leaders in those areas.
"There's been this growing recognition that one of the very strongest capabilities on campus is in all things related to the environment," said Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the UA's Institute of the Environment, which will oversee faculty recruitment in the environmental area, in collaboration with leaders in relevant colleges on campus.
With the UA already positioned as a leader in research on topics like solar energy, climate change and ecosystem behavior, Overpeck said the money will help fill in gaps in expertise in the field, promoting increased interdisciplinary strength in environmental science, engineering and policy research.
Ultimately, the UA could become uniquely qualified to help find solutions to environmental issues facing not only the people of Arizona and the United States, but also the world, Overpeck said.
"Our goal is to be the best environmental institution in the country," he said. "This is our push to literally get to the top."
Fernando Martinez, director of the UA's BIO5 Institute, which will oversee faculty recruitment in translational medicine, said the $6 million in that area will help the University translate scientific findings in the laboratory into useful medical tools.
"What we want to bring to The University of Arizona are physician-scientists – physicians also trained in biological sciences, medical sciences – to be a bridge between basic science (and medicine) and transform findings into instruments used in disease treatment," Martinez said. "A lot of advances have been made in understanding how disease occurs. What we have not been able to do as effectively is create the instruments to treat people."
Martinez said he anticipates strategic new hires in translational medicine will increase the UA's potential to take the work done by some of the country's top scientific researchers on topics like memory loss, Alzheimer's disease and cell imaging.
The provost identified environmental science, engineering and policy and translational medicine as funding priorities because environmental studies and applied biosciences are two of the strongest interdisciplinary areas on campus, Tolbert said. Both are highlighted as key focus areas in the UA's Strategic Plan.
Each area will be provided with $2 million a year for three consecutive years to cover seed salary support and start-up costs for new faculty members.
"We're trying to jumpstart faculty hires by providing the money for the hires now," said Tolbert, adding that colleges housing the new faculty will be expected to pay the faculty salaries after a couple years of initiative support.
The announcement of the new initiatives comes on the heels of the University's recent announcement of a new faculty grant program and two new graduate fellowships that will provide $600,000 to support faculty and graduate students in the arts, humanities and social sciences.