July 2020

Face to Face with Collaborative Research

July 24, 2020    |  

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t speak effusively about the 34th president of the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP)  Darryll J. Pines, PhD, MS. Upon announcing in February that Pines would take the reins this month of the state’s flagship public university, University System of Maryland (USM) Chancellor Jay A. Perman, MD, cited some of his successes as dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering since 2009: outstanding student retention and graduation rates, goal-breaking philanthropic support, worldwide success of the Solar Decathlon team, and national recognition for the school’s chapter of Engineers without Borders.

But even more important to the future of the university, Perman cited the tremendous growth at the Clark School of minority faculty representation — even a doubling of the number of tenure-track women faculty members.

Bruce Jarrell and Darryll Pines share a lighter moment on the Face to Face program.

Bruce Jarrell and Darryll Pines share a lighter moment on the Face to Face program.

“I know that you’ve said and I agree that there are two pandemics right now. One is about COVID and one is about social injustice,” University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Interim President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, began at the start of his weekly web-based program Virtual Face to Face with Dr. Bruce Jarrell. “During your tenure as the dean of the School of Engineering you made great inroads into achieving more equity, diversity,  and inclusion in the School of Engineering. How did you go about accomplishing that to be so successful?”

Pines explained that the effort to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion among students, faculty, and staff was made part of the school’s strategic plan, and that processes were put in place to ensure compliance. “One of the processes that we put in place was that in every search, when you got to the finalist pool you had to have a diverse candidate in the finalist pool,” he said. “Another incentive was that the dean’s office would offer at least one third of the salary amount to any department that found an underrepresented, diverse candidate or female candidate. That turned out to be a pretty good incentive to our departments.”

Pines’ own path to leadership of UMCP included an unlikely and fortuitous relationship. “When I was an 18-year-old freshman mechanical engineering student,” he told Jarrell, “Dan Mote was a mechanical engineering faculty member at UC [University of California] Berkeley and he was my academic advisor. Dr. Mote invited me into his laboratory and he showed me what he was working on and that got me excited about research.” Decades later, in 1998 when Pines was an assistant professor at UMCP, C. Daniel Mote, PhD, was named president at College Park.

UMCP’s and Pines’ relationship with colleagues to the north at UMB has not always been so charmed. Jarrell and Pines recalled together their first meeting in 2008 at what was then known as the University of Maryland Bioscience Institute in Rockville.

“There was this tension between our two institutions that like I had never seen before,” Pines remembered. “And just to think that where we are today in a wonderful, collaborative environment with mutual respect of the leadership and the researchers and scholars at UMB.  I even have a greater appreciation to be honest with you, Dr. Jarrell, based on what has happened with this COVID-19 time. I have an even greater respect for colleagues at UMB because of the collaboration that I’ve seen during this time period.”

At the heart of that collaborative relationship is the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State, more commonly referred to as MPower. What started as a spark of collaboration in 2012, was kindled by an act of the Maryland General Assembly and the governor in 2016 into what is now a massive array of joint research and programs. About two dozen programs and centers are advancing research in the use of virtual and augmented reality in medicine, opioid use disorders, human trafficking, brain health and human performance, and much more. Since 2012, some 650 joint research proposals have yielded $217 million in joint funding.

Right now, the most pressing need for research is in regard to COVID-19, and the collaboration is working there, too. In May, MPower’s UM Ventures awarded funds to four teams for research that would contribute to commercialization of evidence-based medical devices related to COVID-19  including devices for testing, personal protection, treatment, and prevention. Additionally, proposals are being reviewed now to make multiple seed grant awards to fund COVID-19 research, not only in the medical arena, but also involving social, behavioral, policy, and legal research.

“It’s been a wonderful partnership,” Jarrell said. “And we’ve got lots more to do together.”

You can watch the entire conversation, including questions from the audience regarding research, the return of students, promoting diversity on campus, and more, at the link above.