up: Senate initiative takes faculty expertise to Virginia's citizens
By Dan Heuchert
President for Research and Public Service Gene Block was visiting
the Capitol recently when a state legislator came up to him and
said, "You're the one who talks about the biological clocks,
Score one for the new U.Va. Speakers Bureau. Conceived by the
and getting its formal launch this semester, the speakers bureau
seeks to boost the University's outreach effort by offering the
services of faculty volunteers to educational, civic and alumni
groups free of charge. Block's office or the Alumni Association
reimburse speakers for travel and lodging expenses.
While such efforts have long been carried
out on a piecemeal basis, there was no central clearinghouse to
match interested groups with willing speakers, or to quantify
just how often such activity was already going on, said physics
professor Louis Bloomfield, one of the drivers of the speakers
bureau effort. Now there is.
Thus it was that Block, who also heads the Center
for Biological Timing, recently gave talks at the Virginia
Science Museum, St. Christopher's School and a Kiwanis Club, all
in the Richmond area - somewhere along the way entertaining the
legislator he would later meet.
"There is an awful lot of relevant research going on at the
University that the public doesn't know a lot about," Block
said. "The state taxpayers pay for the University. They deserve
to know what's going on."
"Not only are we trying to project a sense of what we do,"
said Faculty Senate chair David Gies, "but we want to capitalize
on some of the talent we have and serve the commonwealth. We really
want to let people know that we can serve as a resource."
The speakers bureau arose out of the Faculty Senate's intellectual
community initiatives, "and also the sense that [the larger
community] 'out there' doesn't really realize what we do,"
Bloomfield, already a champion in translating physics for the
masses through his "How Things Work" course and books,
seized on the speakers bureau concept when he chaired the Faculty
Senate's Research and Scholarship Committee during the 1998-99
He noted that intellectual community efforts to that point had
been largely confined within Grounds. "It seemed natural
to me to extend the intellectual community outside the University,"
He initially compiled on his own computer the database of faculty
willing to speak, in order to get the effort off the ground quickly,
but it soon became clear that he would need some help.
Enter Block's office and the Alumni
Association, who offered to take over the day-to-day operations
of the bureau, with the assistance of Frances Peyton, secretary
for the Faculty Senate, who actually matches the faculty with
groups seeking a speaker. The effort dovetails nicely with Virginia
2020 efforts in the public service arena.
"None of us could have done this on our own," said Laura
Hawthorne, coordinator of public service, who oversees the bureau
from Block's office. Faculty are more willing to participate in
a faculty initiative than if the administration were to have attempted
to start a bureau on its own and asked for volunteers, she said.
Despite virtually no large-scale solicitation, about 60 faculty
members have already signed up to give talks, which are grouped
under three categories: "Commonwealth Lectures," for
civic and non-profit groups; "Scholastic Enrichment Lectures,"
for children and youth audiences; and "Alumni Association
Lectures," for U.Va. alumni clubs across the nation.
bureau's web pages have been redesigned to make them easier to
use for both faculty and outside groups; now that that project
is complete, Hawthorne hopes to add speakers to the database on
a case-by-case basis, with the aim of building the list to at
point is ... the speakers bureau not only encourages faculty
to share their knowledge with the public, it also keeps
track of their efforts.
A quick glance at the rich assortment of offerings finds everything
from practical advice - "Keeping Children Healthy in Day
Care," by nursing professor Julie Novak, or "Investment
Strategies," by commerce professor Richard DeMong - to weightier
matters, as in "Biology of Aggressive and Suicidal Behavior
in Adults and Children," by psychiatry professor Dr. Gerald
L. Brown - to the entertaining-yet-informative, such as economics
professor Kenneth Elzinga talking about "The Economist as
Novelist" (he's also a mystery writer).
Recognizing that there are many demands on a faculty member's
time, Hawthorne and Gies stressed that faculty members won't be
asked to speak more than about one to three times a year.
"There really hasn't been any resistance," Gies said.
" ... Nobody's said no. It's an opportunity to share what
they're interested in with an interested audience."