SRI managing directors support lead researchers

Author: Gail Hinchion Mancini

Strategic research initiative managing directors

You can only be one place at a time. So if Vittorio Hösle is at a Vatican conference, or David Lodge is with policymakers in Washington, D.C., how do their respective institutes continue to thrive? If Joan Brennecke or Paul Bohn win huge research grants—as they have—they have to do the research. How do they do that and move forward the agenda of the institutes they head?

When the Provost’s Office instituted the Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI) program six years ago—and provided a subsequent $80 million in seed money—this dilemma was foreseeable. The SRI investment advances Notre Dame’s aspirations to raise its research profile, particularly in mission- relevant areas, by freeing seasoned researchers to compete for major grants and influence the national or international research agenda.

As Vice President for Research Robert Bernhard took the helm, he described the need for a cadre of specialists whose job would be to support the lead researchers and a myriad of new external relationships. The position of managing director was born. With six specialists now two to three years into this role, their credentials tell of a new breed of talent that brings to the University the kind of guiding leadership normally ascribed to a Sherpa.

The matches themselves seem fortuitous. When David Severson, director of the Eck Institute for Global Health, sought a managing director, he found Katherine A. Taylor, veteran of almost two decades of disease research in Kenya as well as experience in the National Institutes of Health. “Setting up a new institute is the kind of challenge that I like and a skill set I have,” says Taylor, whose first year has involved developing a strategic plan, writing a charter and “developing a framework so we can all start moving together.” These centers and institutes are interdisciplinary by nature, so Taylor’s work to develop a framework “embraced by all” is critical.

Peter Annin relates to that aspect of the job, calling it “creating a culture” at the Environmental Change Initiative (ECI). Annin came to Notre Dame from the nonprofit Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources, and he has helped establish common cause before. This time, it’s among scholars who want to support the ECI mission to do research that supports environmental policy.
ECI director David Lodge lauds two additional aspects of Annin’s skill set.

As an environmental writer and environmental journalist for Newsweek magazine, Annin can support Lodge’s transition as a public and quotable intellectual, as well as other members of ECI who are attracting media attention. Annin also is well versed, Lodge says, at building relationships with the new set of friends ECI is making among Washington policymakers. “Our main goal is to translate research into useful policy. That means more people want to communicate with us. Peter is so good at making a compelling case with them for what we’re doing.”

Joan Brennecke, too, has learned to appreciate that with new opportunities come new relationships to be managed. And as Lodge has with Annin, she’s learned to appreciate the background skills that Patrick Murphy brings to the Sustainable Energy Initiative.

Murphy, who holds an undergraduate Notre Dame engineering degree and who served in the armed forces, most recently was a program director in the Office of Homeland Security. Being a liaison with the Department of Energy comes naturally to him, says Brennecke, whose research team won two prestigious DOE grants last year. There’s a whole new set of Washington, D.C., partners whom Murphy handles, allowing Brennecke to focus on the research.

Murphy is equally good at helping identify new funding opportunities and new opportunities to build external collaborations, Brennecke says.

All managing directors liaise with the outside world in some way that suits the challenge at hand. Kirk Reinbold has a doctorate in biomedical engineering, but said he was not interested in being an academic. An entrepreneur since he left graduate school, and with six patents to his name, Reinbold sees himself as an entrepreneur-in- residence at Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics, directed by Paul Bohn.

“I identify fantastic science and ask how it can best be advanced to serve mankind. Can it be a product or lead to a new venture? Because a great way to serve the common good is if you can make a product and sell it in the global market,” Reinbold explains.

Although headed by Bohn, the initiative is managing the work of several researchers, some whose lab- to-market ideas are well under way. “I feel kind of like a venture capitalist with a portfolio of companies I work with to build value and get them to the point where they really can serve the common good,” he says.

In contrast, Don Stelluto is a natural in academia as he makes our hallowed halls comfortable to visiting scholars while building partnerships among various Notre Dame partners through the Institute for Advanced Studies. Early April saw Stelluto managing the presence of 17 international scholars from multiple disciplines for the conference “Dimensions of Goodness” as he simultaneously prepared an announcement about the second class of institute fellows.

The institute aspires to reignite the Catholic intellectual tradition. Director Hösle, an internationally renowned philosopher, applies his considerable energies to his network of scholars, recruiting fellows and visitors to help realize this vision. Takers thus far include Richard R. Ernst, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, and former German President Horst Köhler. Here at Notre Dame, Stelluto also focuses on seizing opportunities to build interdisciplinary partnerships. Although the academy sometimes works at a slow pace, Stelluto says he has learned that speed is of the essence when seeing an opportunity to create something new.

In addition to the way managing directors are complementing the lead researchers, Robert Bernhard has been impressed by the way they’ve jelled as a cohort group; the managing directors agree cohort collegiality has been an unanticipated perk. “We’re varied in our backgrounds, but we have a lot in common. And we serve as a sounding board to one another,” says Annin.

Adds Taylor, “It’s just great to be able to bounce things off other people.”