Successful Faculty Hiring Initiative Poised to Make a Global Impact
Launched in 2015, the Global Impact Initiative or “GI2” set out to hire 100 faculty investigators in promising new areas of research. To date, 85 new faculty at all levels have been recruited to MSU, and they are already making great strides forward.
“We had three goals for this initiative,” stated Steve Hsu, senior vice president for Research and Innovation, “build on areas of strength to maintain our leadership position, augment existing initiatives, and move into emerging areas of research.”
Rather than a top-down approach, the process involved a grassroots movement led by faculty. MSU research teams submitted proposals for cluster hires of new researchers in areas that could truly make an impact—areas identified as national and global priorities. The teams also had to explain how they would leverage the current strengths at MSU.
Proposals were submitted by 120 groups across campus with wide-ranging ideas from strengthening autonomous vehicle security, to better understanding and preventing antibiotic resistance. Following extensive discussions with college leaders and department faculty, 35 initial proposals for cluster hires were selected, some of which included matching positions from the colleges.
One theme that rose to the top was the clear need for more researchers in computation. Every field—from education to health to business—needs to better understand how to learn from and leverage the huge amounts of data being generated today.
The new department of Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering was formed from this idea and is now home to nearly 40 researchers, including assistant professor Elizabeth Munch. Munch categorizes herself as an interdisciplinary data science researcher focusing on topological data analysis, which provides methods to quantify the shape and structure of data.
“I have been able to explore research directions I never thought possible without being encouraged to work in an interdisciplinary capacity,” stated Munch. “In particular, I have started an active collaboration with another faculty member in horticulture and CMSE, Daniel Chitwood, exploring the quantification of plant morphology through X-Ray CT images. I have also begun working on the interface of data science and quantum computing through a new collaboration with DWave Systems, Inc, as well as continuing my collaboration with engineers on time series analysis.”
Munch also credits the new CMSE department for encouraging collaboration.
“The CMSE department is incredibly collaborative and supportive with an excellent community environment. In this ‘department of outliers’, I have found a place where I truly belong.”
Precision health as well as women’s and children’s health were other themes that arose from the GI2 submissions. Assistant professor Bin Chen joined the department of Pediatrics and Human Development in the spring of 2018 and is currently working on several novel projects.
“I was attracted to MSU because of the stellar new hires under GI2 and the recognition of my research by the senior leadership team,” said Chen. “The diverse research groups at MSU allowed me to quickly form joint teams in multiple endeavors.”
Chen’s latest project is harnessing open genomic data and advanced artificial intelligence technologies to repurpose existing drugs to treat diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a horrible pediatric cancer with a five-year survival rate of less than 1%.
“If we succeed, the drug may be quickly used to save the lives of hundreds of kids and this work could be applied to study other deadly cancers.”
Another GI2 researcher, assistant professor Robert Quinn, works at the interface of microbes and chronic disease, with a current focus on cystic fibrosis.
“My lab studies how the microbiome in the lung changes through time and causes flares of disease that are damaging to patients,” stated Quinn. “We also study how microbes in the gut produce unique molecules that can manipulate our own cell signaling systems to benefit health or induce disease.”
Quinn’s team uses high-tech mass spectrometry and nucleic acid sequencing methods to integrate large datasets on the microbiome to better understand the vital role it plays in health and disease. Some of his research is being conducted with the cystic fibrosis clinic at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.
“MSU is truly an exceptional environment to do science and it has already taken my research in new directions,” said Quinn. “I’ve had individuals from many different departments reach out to me about their interest in the microbiome; from my own department (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology), to physiology and even geography.”
The Global Impact Initiative will continue to recruit through 2020, the end of the initial five-year period.
“This initiative is exceeding our expectations,” stated Hsu. “The search process has generated creative, energetic faculty who are ready to relentlessly pursue solutions to today’s truly significant problems.”
Hsu added, “I’m very hopeful and looking forward to a possible second round that we like to refer to as GI3.”