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Building a Better College

New funding opportunities for USC College faculty, students and departments.

By Wayne Lewis
September 1, 2007

Building a Better College

USC College has unveiled four major initiatives aimed at advancing research and instruction at the university’s largest academic hub.

These new programs promise to bolster faculty development, graduate student recruitment and placement, undergraduate research, and external research funding.

The initiatives detail new policies and earmark significant new funding for the activities of professors, students and departments.

“These initiatives represent first steps toward promoting even higher levels of excellence in undergraduate education, graduate training, and world class research and scholarship,” said USC College Dean Howard Gillman.

Michael Quick, executive vice dean for academic affairs, said the goal is to become one of the great liberal arts colleges at a top research university.

“We can only get there by demanding and rewarding quality, quality in faculty scholarship, quality in recruitment and placement of graduate students, and quality in how we educate our undergraduates,” Quick said.

“To me, these initiatives put our money where our mouth is.”

The initiatives were announced last week via a series of e-mail memoranda from Gillman and his administration. The memos were also posted to the USC College Web site.

The first initiative, dubbed “Next Level,” focuses on faculty development.

One component will match each new tenure-track assistant professor with a mentoring committee composed of at least two senior faculty members. After formulating a plan designed to set the new professor on the road to tenure, the committee will reconvene at least once a year to review progress and update the strategy.

Another element of “Next Level” focuses on associate professors interested in promotion to full professorship. They will produce written plans for achieving a scholarly profile worthy of promotion, and will steer any sabbatical time toward fulfilling their goal.

A third component offers non-tenure-track faculty the opportunity to pursue grants of up to $1,000 to enhance their scholarly profiles.

“Our faculty is the greatest resource the College has,” said Vice Dean Edwin McCann, who leads the College’s faculty affairs office. “So we’re asking members of our faculty community to help colleagues in their development. We also want to recognize the important role that non-tenure-track faculty play in instruction and research, and to do what we can to support their academic endeavors.”

The “Catch and Release” initiative for graduate programs was also unveiled.

The “Catch” component applies to graduate student recruitment. It provides grants of up to $5,000 to support departments’ new ideas for enhancing outreach to prospective students. The “Release” component is meant to improve the quality of placement of new Ph.D.s. Similarly, it offers funding of up to $5,000 for new and innovative programs designed to help doctoral graduates secure better jobs in research and academia.

Elinor Accampo, vice dean with responsibility for graduate programs, said that placement of students in first rate universities and research institutes is her most important goal.

“Recruiting high quality, diverse graduate students is the first step,” she said. “The second is to continue developing excellent programming that not only realizes their potential in research skills and analytical thinking, but also equips them with the professional skills they need.”

For undergraduates, the “Sophomore Opportunities for Academic Research” initiative, or “SOAR,” aims to expand research opportunities.

This program offers qualifying students the opportunity for one-on-one mentoring by faculty. The College will provide $1,000 grants to cover the cost of student research under faculty guidance — research unrelated to the students’ coursework.

Vice Dean Steven Lamy, who oversees undergraduate programs, said the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant summed up this initiative’s ideology: “Have the courage to know.”

“We hope to start students’ love for research and love for ideas,” Lamy said. “On our faculty, we have some of the best researchers in the world. We wanted to share that with our undergraduates, to increase the chances for kids to really see what research is about. And I think that will be a defining experience for their College careers.”

The final initiative will benefit faculty research. Called “Seedling and Seal-the-Deal,” this two-part program is aimed at helping faculty who haven’t previously secured external research funding to do so for the first time.

“One component of USC College’s international status as a premier research college is the breadth of our faculty’s participation in extramurally funded research,” said Dani Byrd, vice dean with responsibility for research advancement.

Through the “Seedling” component, a new investigator could receive funding of up to $2,500 to start a project for which they will later seek external funding. The “Seal-the-Deal” element offers a research stipend of up to $3,000, or release from teaching one course, to new investigators whose proposals have received positive review but not yet been funded.

“This initiative will help introduce new faculty investigators to this process,” Byrd said. “And, I believe, further accelerate our trajectory of research excellence.”