Stars align for Flagship Constellations
Published on Monday, November 20, 2017
The Flagship Constellations initiative had its official unveiling during a public forum Nov. 17 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
“This initiative brings creative people and ideas together in fresh and unique ways to tackle grand challenges,” Chancellor Dr. Jeffrey Vitter said in a news release. “The atmosphere of innovation at the University of Mississippi is exceptional and aligns perfectly with the Flagship Constellations’ focus on high-impact multidisciplinary research and creative achievement.”
During the event, leaders from each of the four constellations – brain wellness, community wellbeing, big data and disaster resilience – presented their ideas for how to leverage the strengths of faculty and staff to fulfill their vision and goals.
Dr. Michael Lehman, professor and chair of neurobiology and anatomical sciences, is a co-leader of the brain wellness constellation. Also on that team is Dr. Lique Coolen, professor of physiology and biophysics and of neurobiology and anatomical sciences; Dr. Chad Washington, assistant professor of neurosurgery; and Dr. Jennifer Reneker, associate professor of physical therapy with a secondary appointment in the Department of Neurosurgery.
“We hope to not only understand the normal functions of the brain, but also what goes wrong in brain disease and after nervous system injury,” Lehman said.
The brain wellness constellation’s research focus aligns with that of the Neuro Institute, a UMMC-based program that is looking for solutions to addiction, neurotrauma and stroke. In addition, the brain wellness team will examine questions of brain development.
“Neuroscience is critically dependent on our crossing traditional boundaries, between disciplines as diverse as biology, psychology, philosophy, law, medicine, engineering and others,” he said.
Dr. Josh Mann, professor and chair of preventive medicine, is a leader of the community well-being constellation, which will “deploy new programs and practices to build stronger, more vibrant communities.
“By working in these key areas using such a coordinated approach, we expect to make real and lasting improvements in well-being for the people of Mississippi, the United States, and beyond,” Mann said.
Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research, is part of the big data constellation, whose goal is to create “new avenues to explore big data for medicine, health, engineering, security, business, policy, and education.”
Dr. Jonathan Wilson, chief administrative officer, is a leader of the disaster resilience constellation, which “will develop technologies, tools, and inform policies to mitigate disasters and increase the resilience and sustainability of communities.
“Natural disasters are not our only threat. There are technological disasters, such as fires, aviation disasters, explosions, chemical and oil spills. There are domestic and international terrorist attacks,” Wilson said.
“Some have come to refer to our youth as the ‘Disaster Generation,’ growing up in a post 9/11 climate. Clearly, the occurrence of a disaster, regardless of origin, is a matter of when as opposed to if.”
“Many of our current challenges are very complex and require a multidisciplinary approach that draws on a broad range of expertise,” Summers said. “The Flagship Constellations provide a natural gravitational platform for the collaboration of a diverse group of experts across the entirety of our academic enterprise that can focus on solving a central salient problem.”
Vitter introduced the Flagship Constellations during his investiture in November 2016. The Chancellor’s Office received 18 full proposals representing 400 faculty member. A review committee selected the top proposals in May and formalized the constellations in August.
During the event, Vitter announced the creation of the Ernest R. Duff Flagship Constellation Fund, a $1 million endowment that will support flagship initiatives.
“We recognize that our goals are lofty, but as a great public international research university and the state’s flagship, we have a duty and leadership responsibility to tackle the pressing issues of our time,” Vitter said. “I am eager to see the innovations and societal contributions that will result from the success of our Flagship Constellations.”