Cluster and Interdisciplinary Hiring Initiative

Background

Over the past few years, UT Austin has made significant progress to strengthen interdisciplinary research and scholarship efforts. Through a combination of the work already occurring in the colleges and schools, and reinforced by the UT Pop-up Institutes and Bridging Barriers, our campus is experiencing considerable interdisciplinary research and scholarship momentum.

To supplement this work, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost is launching the Cluster and Interdisciplinary Hiring Initiative. It is designed to extend collaborative research and scholarship by authorizing up to 40 new faculty hires whose interdisciplinary areas of knowledge cross the boundaries of existing academic departments.
 

Goals and Objectives

The Cluster and Interdisciplinary Hiring Initiative aims to supplement departmentally-based hiring practices and norms. In essence, the initiative will facilitate interdisciplinary strategic hiring by providing full salary support for new faculty positions.

The initiative’s goals include:

  • Enabling the campus to devote a critical mass of faculty to areas of knowledge that can only be addressed across existing departmental structures.
  • Providing for new research tracks and collaborative opportunities.
  • Addressing difficult contemporary problems.
  • Encouraging and fostering cooperation among an already strong faculty and staff research body.
  • Assisting with the fulfillment of other priorities of the university, particularly increasing campus diversity.

Funded Proposals

Eight proposals were selected to receive institutional investment and support.

  • Bridging the Gaps in Resilience Research

    Bridging the Gaps in Resilience Research will support UT Austin’s emerging expertise in discovering the critical interactions between environmental and human systems in Texas while working with communities to co-develop strategies to improve the resilience of these systems.

    These four faculty positions — in integrated modeling, regional health, metropolitan governance and policy, and environmental/natural resource economics — will catalyze the research goals of Planet Texas 2050, an existing, institutionally-supported research grand challenge involving more than 175 researchers spanning 14 colleges and schools across UT Austin.

    These new faculty members will provide critical expertise and leadership as the Planet Texas 2050 team builds a holistic understanding of four interconnected systems (water, energy, urban systems, and ecosystems), integrates interdisciplinary research projects, builds a set of interoperable predictive models, and works with communities to generate strategies and policies that address the challenges faced by a changing Texas and a changing world. New courses on water, energy, urban systems, and ecosystems will provide UT Austin students with knowledge, training, and research experiences. In addition, these four faculty positions will provide leadership to our interdisciplinary research program as we build relationships with stakeholders across the state, emphasizing UT Austin’s value to all Texans as the flagship public university.

    Individuals advancing the proposal:

    • Jay Banner, professor, Jackson School of Geosciences
    • Heather Houser, associate professor, Department of English
    • Fernanda Leite, associate professor, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering
    • Katherine Lieberknecht, assistant professor, School of Architecture
    • Suzanne Pierce, research scientist, Texas Advanced Computing Center
    • Adam Rabinowitz, associate professor, Department of Classics
    • Lourdes Rodríguez, associate professor, Department of Population Health
    • Michael Young, senior research scientist, Bureau of Economic Geology
       
  • Diversity in Cognitive Functioning in Late Life

    Increased longevity is reshaping the population of Texas in fundamental ways. Nearly four million Texans are over age 65. Of those, 400,000 Texans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias; the financial and family burdens of this disease cost the Texas economy a staggering $20 billion a year.

    Texas also is at the cutting edge of demographic changes associated with health disparities. A majority of Texans over age 50 identify as an ethnic or racial minority. These populations are at heightened risk of developing dementia. Prior research has approached cognitive aging as a monolithic phenomenon. Yet, cognitive aging reflects myriad factors associated with life history such as race, ethnicity, education, language status (mono- versus bi-lingual), employment, diet, discrimination, and access to healthcare. Texas faces a pressing need to identify the role of these factors in cognitive aging.

    This cluster hire will recruit four scholars to launch UT Austin to the forefront of research on diversity in cognitive aging. Collaborating with faculty affiliates of the Texas Aging and Longevity Center, they will generate a groundbreaking interdisciplinary approach to identify risk factors, etiology, brain structures, and interventions for cognitive declines in different racial and ethnic groups.

    Individuals advancing the proposal:

    • Jacqui Angel, professor, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs
    • Karen Fingerman, professor, Department of Human Development and Family Sciences
    • Andrea Gore, professor, College of Pharmacy
    • Andreana Haley, associate professor, Department of Psychology
    • Maya Henry, assistant professor, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
    • David Paydarfar, professor, chair of the Department of Neurology
    • James Sulzer, assistant professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering
    • Debra Umberson, professor, Department of Sociology
    • Bo Xie, professor, School of Nursing, School of Information
       
  • Global Internet, Media, and (Dis)Information

    The potential and perils of the internet are a central concern of the twenty-first century. The web empowers new voices, but also enables authoritarian states, hate-mongering groups, and unethical corporate actors. The Global Internet, Media and (Dis)Information (GIMI) cluster hire initiative endeavors to build upon UT's cross-campus expertise in global studies and information circulation to study these phenomena through productive interdisciplinary collaboration.

    Four hires, two in the College of Liberal Arts (COLA) and one each in the School of lnformation and the Moody College of Communication, will provide the core faculty for a cross-campus research network. Through a proposed GIMI Lab, new hires will connect centers and units across campus, including the Technology and Information Policy Institute in Communications, global area studies centers in COLA, and UT's national security policy centers.

    The GIMI Lab will act as a catalyst for cross-disciplinary research and teaching, the securing of collaborative grants, and the cross-pollination of COLA language and cultural expertise with the methods and approaches of other colleges and schools. It will also provide a think tank for the formulation of concrete technology- and policy-based solutions to the evolving challenges associated with contemporary and potential future effects of (dis)information on our globally (dis)connected world.

    Individuals advancing the proposal:

    • Amelia Acker, assistant professor, School of Information
    • Sam Baker, associate professor, Department of English
    • Kenneth R. Fleischmann, professor, School of Information
    • Karen Grumberg, associate professor, Department of Middle Eastern Studies
    • Mary Neuburger, professor, Department of History
    • Stephen Slick, clinical professor, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs
    • Sharon Stover, professor, School of Journalism
       
  • Good Systems: Building Technology Ethics Expertise

    Good Systems, a UT grand challenge, is organizing a set of cluster hires in the area of technology ethics. The goal of Good Systems is to ensure that the needs and values of society drive the design of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Specifically, the expertise that we are targeting with four cluster hires includes ethics, ethics of AI technologies, ethics and media studies, and ethics of design.

    These new faculty members will participate in and augment the expertise of the Good Systems network and will help ensure that UT becomes an internationally-recognized center of excellence for public interest AI. These new hires will deepen overall campus focus on the ethics of technology in general and more specifically on the ethics of AI.

    They will also complement our current expertise as each of them makes available to us a new perspective on the fundamental problems in ethics, technology, and society that Good Systems seeks to address. These hires will help to ensure that Good Systems will achieve success over the coming six to eight years.

    Individuals advancing the proposal:

    • Samuel Baker, associate professor, Department of English
    • Chandra Bhat, professor, Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering; Department of Economics
    • Tanya Clement, associate professor, Department of English; School of Information
    • Kenneth R. Fleischmann, associate professor, School of Information
    • Junfeng Jiao, assistant professor, School of Architecture; Department of Population Health
    • Matthew Lease, associate professor, School of Information; Department of Computer Science
    • Peter Stone, professor, Department of Computer Science
    • Sharon Strover, professor, School of Journalism; Department of Radio-Television-Film
       
  • Growing Basic and Translational Biomedical Imaging Science

    The overarching goal of this proposed cluster is to recruit a team of engineers, physicists, and data scientists to enhance biomedical imaging science and its applications at UT Austin. The University has a once-in-a generation opportunity to integrate world class basic science and computing programs, a new medical school, and an expanding imaging core facility (biomedimaging.utexas.edu) to become a national leader in biomedical imaging. Four faculty recruits will span the major areas of biomedical imaging science from hardware development to image acquisition to data analysis and visualization. Each faculty member will be jointly appointed in an academic department in either the Cockrell School of Engineering or the College of Natural Sciences and the Dell Medical School. This cluster hire will allow the Biomedical Imaging Center (BIC) at UT Austin to achieve a new, broader mission focused on using computationally-based imaging methods to address some of the most pressing questions in basic and medical science today. Moreover, by increasing our national prominence in biomedical imaging science, this cluster hire will dramatically increase the University’s ability to attract first-rate scientists, engineers, and clinicians in the future.

    Individuals advancing the proposal:

    • R. Nick Bryan, professor, chair of the Department of Diagnostic Medicine
    • Adrienne Dula, assistant professor, Department of Neurology
    • Alison Preston, professor, Department of Neuroscience; Department of Psychology; Department of Psychiatry
    • Thomas Yankeelov, professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Department of Diagnostic Medicine; Department of Oncology
       
  • Maya Archaeology, Environment, and Religion

    The Maya Archaeology, Environment and Religion cluster represents a critical expansion of UT’s long-existing strengths in the interdisciplinary study of Mesoamerica, a major cultural region defined by what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

    It will bring to UT Austin three leading researchers now participating in groundbreaking investigations of Maya civilization and culture, all using different approaches to address key questions in archaeology, visual culture, history, and environmental change – all areas that overlap in fascinating ways in Mesoamerican research.

    The three new faculty will work within existing departments and research units (anthropology, geography and environment, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, religious studies) in order to forge connections between the natural sciences and the humanities, using innovative technologies and traditional field-based approaches to study this important region. One focus will be the study of ancient Maya communities and their relationships to changing environments and social circumstances over the long term. New technologies in remote sensing (LiDAR) and in the digital humanities have begun to transform the ways researchers have approached archaeology and the relationship of people to their environment.

    The cluster will create a unique intellectual hub bridging the sciences and the humanities, and will establish UT Austin as the premier global institution for the study of Maya culture and civilization.

    Individuals advancing the proposal:

    • Timothy Beach, professor, Department of Geography and Environment
    • Virginia Garrard, professor, Department of History
    • Danny Law, associate professor, Department of Linguistics
    • Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, professor, Department of Geography and Environment
    • Astrid Runggaldier, assistant professor of instruction, Department of Art and Art History
    • David Stuart, professor, Department of Art and Art History
    • Fred Valdez, professor, Department of Anthropology
       
  • Reducing Health Disparities: Innovative Biosocial Approaches

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have prioritized biosocial research to synthesize the inextricably-blended biological, social, psychological, and behavioral factors that influence health across the life course, create health inequalities, and culminate in relatively poor population health for the United States compared to similarly affluent nations.

    This cluster hiring initiative will cement UT’s national reputation as a center of excellence in biosocial approaches to health disparities research. Four new faculty hires will bridge disciplines across campus and stimulate the innovative team-based research needed to tackle the complex problems of population health.

    Examples of such approaches include social genomics—understanding how genetics influence vulnerability and resilience to the social and physical determinants of health, biosocial health research using biomarker data and methods to link the social environment to biological processes that can be measured in the lab as well as at the population level to understand health disparities from childhood through later life, and neuroscience to understand how social stress affects neurological structure, function, and development in children as well as cognitive health in later life.

    Individuals advancing the proposal:

    • Frances Champagne, professor, Department of Psychology
    • Catherine Cubbin, professor, School of Social Work
    • Karen Fingerman, professor, Department of Human Development and Family Sciences
    • Elizabeth Matsui, professor, Department of Population Health
    • Debra Umberson, professor, Department of Sociology; Director, Population Research Center
    • Paul von Hippel, associate professor, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs
       
  • Whole Communities—Whole Health

    Whole Communities—Whole Health (WCWH) is an interdisciplinary initiative to transform developmental science by leveraging advances in community engagement, biobehavioral and environmental measurements, and system data informatics. With a focus on childhood adversity and resilience, WCWH will engage community members to understand their concerns and then provide actionable information to them in near real-time using cutting-edge technology in the home.

    Our strategic hiring plan addresses four domains essential to this grand challenge. A scholar in pediatric neuropsychology or neuroscience will elucidate how neurobiological development is impacted by exposure to adversity. An engineer with expertise in home-based smart sensors will illustrate the interplay of environment, behavior, and health. To make meaning of complex data from a diverse participant population, we will hire an expert in multi-ethnic quantitative and computational health bio-omics to advance the theory and applications of multilevel and big data in health and behavior biosciences.

    To ensure bi-directional knowledge exchange among researchers and community members, we seek an expert in visual communication and persuasion in the health context. Within each of these domains, additional expertise in communicating to minority and/or traditionally underserved communities will be a priority.

    Individuals advancing the proposal:

    • Amanda Barczyk, assistant professor, Department of Population Health
    • Sarah Kate Bearman, assistant professor, Department of Educational Psychology; Department of Psychiatry
    • Darla Castelli, professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education
    • Frances Champagne, profescsor, Department of Psychology
    • Karen Johnson, associate professor, School of Nursing
    • Kerry Kinney, professor, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering; Department of Population Health
    • Karla Lawson, clinical assistant professor, Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care; Department of Population Health
    • Clinton E. Leysath, program director, Bridging Barriers Grand Challenges Initiative
    • Michael Mackert, professor, Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations; Director of the Center for Health Communication
    • Julie Maslowsky, assistant professor, Department of Kinesiology and Health Education; Department of Population Health
    • Zoltan Nagy, assistant professor, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering
    • Lourdes Rodríguez, associate professor, Department of Population Health; Director, Center for Place-Based Initiatives
    • David Schnyer, professor, chair of the Department of Psychology; Department of Psychiatry

       

Future Consideration

Four additional teams were selected to work with academic leadership – the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and relevant deans and department chairs – during 2019-20 to refine their proposal for future consideration.

  • Basic, Translational and Clinical Infectious Diseases and Immunology
  • Exploration of Life and Planetary Habitability
  • Interdisciplinary and Distributed Artificial Intelligence
  • Texas Quantum Science and Engineering Institute