Communities of Excellence mark two years of impact

Leaders of the GEM, GHE and SMART Communities of Excellence get an overhead view the posters presented at the research institutes' annual progress review. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By SUZANNE CHAMBERLAIN

Published September 19, 2017

It was show-and-tell time for UB’s Communities of Excellence last week as members of the research institutes that have been impacting our world for the past two years gathered for their annual progress review.

Colleagues, students and reviewers heard brief presentations from the three groups: Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM); Global Health Equity (GHE); and Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART).

In introductory remarks, Provost Charles F. Zukoski clarified the communities’ purpose: “In the communities, we bring together the planners, political scientists, artists and humanists with the technologists and scientists to expand and enrich the dialogue; change human behavior; and deliver scholarship, engagement and education of exceptional impact and quality.” He said by doing so, we “capture our faculty and institutional strengths, focus our investments and maximize our impact.”

Members of the communities made that case with more than 30 presentations and dozens of research posters alluding to the very diverse projects being pursued by affiliated faculty and students.

They talked of the research, education and outreach projects that were addressing major global challenges — from hand-washing practices, refugee health and well-being, and embodying the microbiome through dance, to cutting-edge oral microbiome research, autonomous systems, and high-performance lithium-ion batteries.

“Events like these are invaluable,” said Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development, who appreciated the peer interaction provided by the showcase. “You get to hear what others are doing to address these major issues, so it expands your knowledge while also allowing you, the researcher, to know how and where you and your work fit into the field.

“In addition, it’s just fun to talk about cool ideas,” Govindaraju said.



Josh Gordon, a student in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health,  discusses his poster and research at the year 2 program review for the Communities of Excellence, held in the atrium of the Center for the Arts. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

And the event was more than a showcase for the communities in year two of the university’s five-year commitment. This year’s annual review process included three external reviewers — one subject-matter expert for each field — along with three UB faculty members and two administrators. After the showcase, the reviewers, deans and vice presidents talked individually with each community and its leaders.

The reviewers’ report will help the communities measure their progress toward their visions and becoming sustainable communities of excellence. It will note their successes, identify what is or is not working, obstacles to progress, and barriers that stand in the way of success. The report also will suggest areas for expansion or improvement.

GEM advances the understanding of areas that enable development of personalized medicine, empowering individuals with greater control of their health and understanding of the human genome and the human microbiome. GEM is enhancing UB’s reputation in genomics and making it a national model for promoting and increasing genomic literacy.

GHE focuses on the social, economic, political and environmental factors that contribute to global health inequities. It influences policymakers, funders and practitioners who address problems ranging from child survival, growth and development to refugee health and well-being.

SMART is developing the next generation of manufacturing technologies, processes and education that enable sustainable, cost-effective production of high-quality customizable products. SMART leverages university and regional strengths in manufacturing, while also partnering with regional companies to educate future manufacturing leaders and shape policy.