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Science and Technology Documents List

Science & Technology Commission

Anita Jones, Chair

Presentation to the Board of Visitors

October 15, 1999


Why science and technology at the University of Virginia?

There are three primary reasons to strengthen science and technology at U.Va.

  1. Technology is the largest single cause of change in today’s society. Information technology is changing how business is conducted, the buying patterns of the American public, and our processes of democracy. Entire new fields have emerged, such as micro- and nanotechnology. These areas will put tiny sensors and computers in every object imaginable – planes, trains, doorknobs, finger rings, and the human body. Another emerging field is genomics, which promises to deliver improvements to our health but which also will raise a difficult set of moral and ethical questions.

Yet, despite the prevalence of technology in the world today, students graduating from American universities are often technologically illiterate. This must change.

  1. Basic research in the United States is carried out in universities. New knowledge coming from university researchers is a critical fuel that fires our economy. There is exceptional change in the research landscape today; new discoveries are coming at an ever-increasing rate. In addition, knowledge is coming in multi-disciplinary areas, where experts from multiple fields come together. Virginia’s programs must adapt to meet these challenges.

However, Virginia’s programs must adapt to meet the challenges of the increase in the rate of new knowledge and the movement toward multi-disciplinary opportunities.

In the sciences and engineering, as in other fields, education and research reinforce and improve one another. The better the research we conduct in our labs, the better the material we teach in the classroom.

  1. Where there is change, there is opportunity. As one of the nation’s leading public institutions, we must have an excellent science and engineering program. If we plan and invest wisely, we can take advantage of emerging opportunities to be better than the institutions we compete with. Our students will be educated to take their rightful place as knowledgeable citizens in the Commonwealth and in the nation.

The University of Virginia is a quality research university in the sciences and engineering, but it has not been known for these programs to the extent it is known for its humanities and professional programs. However, there is a solid base to build upon, and the opportunities are many.

How should U.Va. proceed? That is the question this Commission is addressing.


A Multitude of Alternatives

Our first conclusion is that the University must make choices in order to focus faculty, students, education programs, research programs, and funds on endeavors that will make a difference.

The S&T Commission is considering many alternative areas, especially the multi-disciplinary areas that span departments, even schools. We ask:

  • What is Virginia’s competitive advantage?
  • What is appropriate for the University of Virginia – today, in Charlottesville, and in the Commonwealth of Virginia?

Our inquiry lends itself to quantitative evaluation. We have compiled "Vital Statistics" that quantitatively describe the science and engineering activities in the University today. We also look at comparable benchmark measures for our competitors:

  • Critical mass of faculty;
  • Computing, laboratory, and teaching infrastructure;
  • Number of students in the education programs, both undergraduate and graduate;
  • Instruction and research space required;
  • Research grant income levels;
  • Industry partnerships – current and potential;
  • Intellectual property potential; and
  • Potential for improvement in the rankings.

In addition, we will forecast federal research funding trends. Funding levels are growing in selected areas. We want to assure U.Va. is positioned to benefit.

In summary, we are evaluating alternatives. We are comparing ourselves to our peers and our competitors, both qualitatively and quantitatively.


Special Activities

The Science and Technology Commission has met biweekly during the spring and fall semesters. In addition, the commission recently held two important events:

  1. Commission members met with the presidents of the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering here in Charlottesville. We discussed possible futures for university programs in science and engineering in the 21st century.
  2. In September, the commission held a two-day workshop. Faculty from a dozen other universities discussed initiatives and programs in science and engineering. We heard from university presidents, deans, and institute directors. They each discussed a specific scientific area, their strategy to achieve excellence, the resources required to field their initiative, and the success and failure to date of the endeavor. We inquired about the quantitative benchmark measures that I mentioned earlier.

Among the universities represented were the University of Illinois, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Penn State, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, the University of Florida, and Rutgers.

Today, we are distilling lessons learned form the workshop. We are building straw-man business cases for each of several potential focus areas. Each business case defines what it would take to be world-class in that area.


During the Next Year

In the coming months, this commission will refine a set of recommendations. In doing so, we will enter a dialogue with the stakeholders: students, faculty, you – the Board of Visitors, alumni, and the University administration.

The Commission will define a set of fundamental principles that can guide University decision-making and priority-setting, as well as the strategic investment that will be required to advance in science and engineering.

I will be back to discuss with you a set of recommendations. Those recommendations will define how this University can excel in education and research in science and engineering. These recommendations will chart a course so that Mr. Jefferson’s University can:

  1. Produce new, profound knowledge in some areas of science and engineering that will substantially advance society; and
  2. Prepare students to lead and to contribute to a society propelled forward on the wave of technology.




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