Innovation and leadership
Universities have an interesting dual role of preserving culture while at the same time producing new knowledge. The University at Buffalo is a fine example of this phenomenon. We are a recognized leader in the traditional disciplines that preserve our culture and form the core of any major university, yet our role as a major research university ensures a steady stream of knowledge for societyís benefit, thanks to ongoing investigations across disciplines.
In addition, the University at Buffalo is precisely the right size and composition to be a leader and innovator in academic programs. In higher education, the right size is often the key to success. If a university is too small, it may lack the faculty depth needed to build new disciplines. If the institution is too large, a cumbersome administrative structure or bureaucratic procedures may prevent it from moving quickly into new areas of research and scholarship. UB is large enough to have superb faculty in all major disciplines, yet small enough to capitalize on opportunities at the most propitious moment.
This spirit of innovation and leadership was behind the recent formation of two new schools at UBthe School of Informatics and the School of Public Health and Health Professions. Both combine disciplines long in existence at UB; however, the forces were combined in such a way that new academic domains resulted. Because of this creative melding, both schools are poised to be educational and research leaders in the near future.
The School of Informatics was formed by merging the Department of Communication and the School of Library and Information Studies. The school focuses on the intersection of people, information and technology, a compelling area for scholarly investigation, given the massive changes produced by technology and the complex social impact of these changes. Offering a broad-based education focusing on history and tradition, as well as education in communication, management and technical skills, the school prepares its graduates to be leaders in the information economy.
For instance, the new master of arts degree in informatics, developed with funding from AT&T, equips students to enter knowledge-intensive organizations. Students in this program leave with technology skills in combination with competencies in communication, team building, critical thinking, information and knowledge management, organizational culture and organizational strategy, and systems. Planning for an undergraduate program with a similar focus, also funded by AT&T, is currently under way. The School of Informatics is now positioned to develop library science in exciting new ways, a task necessitated by the Web and its disorganized, unevaluated presentation of information. Indeed, the librarian of the future will help individuals more skillfully navigate the vast amounts of information provided online.
The School of Public Health and Health Professions has something in common with the School of Informatics: In both schools the research and educational programs depend on the ability to manage and interpret large amounts of information. This ability has many practical applications. For example, the School of Public Health and Health Professions is creating a "population health observatory"in effect, an integrated health surveillance system. A potential model for the country, the observatory will coordinate health data in eight counties. Use of modern technology in this regional network will provide for critical early identification and warning of an attack involving biological weapons, or of a naturally occurring health threat, such as SARS. The database will also monitor the health of Western New Yorkers and provide data relevant to evaluating treatment. Meanwhile, the School of Informatics is developing a program in medical informatics that will aid in integrating medical records from pharmacists, doctorsí offices, insurance plans and hospitals.
Thus will both schools move the university in new directions, leading to significant national opportunities while at the same time providing services that assist Western New York. All these exciting new developments closely follow UBís tradition of innovation and leadership.
Elizabeth D. Capaldi