March 4, 2003
GW Selects Seven Areas of Academic Excellence
University Invests in Programs to Enhance Educational
and National Recognition
The University has identified seven areas of academic excellence that
will receive additional support over the next three-to-five years in
an effort to focus GWs priorities on areas that have gained or
have the potential to gain national recognition.
Combined, these seven areas have received an additional $482,500 this
fiscal year, with more support planned for the future, says Donald R.
Lehman, executive vice president for academic affairs. The seven areas
of excellence include: biomedical engineering, history, human evolution,
political science, public policy/public administration, the Sigur Center
for Asian Studies, and transportation safety and security.
These seven have national and international recognition, but we
want to bring them to a higher level, Lehman says. For example,
when people think about the top faculty in human evolution, we want
them to think about GW.
Guidelines for academic excellence were presented to the schools in
November 2001. Lehman says three guidelines were especially instrumental
in the selection process: leveraging the assets of the University, using
resources from the Washington metropolitan area, and looking at the
contribution these areas have made or will make to undergraduate education.
Each interested program submitted a proposal to the appropriate dean,
who then chose plans to forward to the larger Academic Excellence Committee.
The deans then made presentations to the committee in support of the
proposals from their respective schools. After thorough assessments,
12 out of 24 proposals submitted were recommended to Lehman and University
President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who consulted with the presidents
senior staff to select the final seven proposals.
Certainly, it was stiff competition and there are many high quality
targets for investment, says Christopher Deering, professor of
political science and chair of the department. We believed that
recent national rankings, our success in recruiting high quality teaching
and research faculty, and the centrality of public and international
affairs endeavors at GW made us a logical and strong possibility. We
also believed that there was a synergy to be gained with public policy,
the Sigur Center, and some of the other eventual selectees.
The seven areas have received support for additional faculty members,
new graduate assistant positions, funds for staff, money for seminars,
and resources for travel, among other investments (See
specific support). Timothy Tong, dean of the School of Engineering
and Applied Science (SEAS), says his experience has shown that a focused
agenda for a school or university means a higher record of success.
For SEAS, two areas were selected transportation safety and security,
and biomedical engineering building on existing strengths.
These areas were chosen based in part on their relevance to the
current technological world and the future development that is required
for the next 1015 years, Tong explains. We believe
that we will become a nationally recognized center of excellence.
The financial support from government and private institutions for those
two areas has grown in recent years. In fiscal year 200102, Tong
says transportation received $4 million from external sources to support
its research activity, while biomedical engineering was awarded $1 million
for its research agenda.
A key component for transportation safety and security is the Virginia
Campus, which houses the areas research through partnerships with
the Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal
Aviation Administration, among others. Just last week, GW received a
$5 million grant, the largest in SEAS history, to lead
automobile child safety research.
We would like the transportation activity to become widely recognized,
Lehman says. Wed like everybody to know that a major center
for transportation research is located at GWs Virginia Campus.
The transportation program is indicative of the interdepartmental, and,
in many cases, the interdisciplinary nature of higher education today.
The departments of electrical engineering, computer science, and mechanical/aerospace
engineering contribute to GWs transportation research. Sharing
resources and ideas is common among the seven selected areas.
The PhD program in public policy benefits from a strong and rich
tradition of policy-relevant faculty research in departments such as
economics, history, philosophy, political science, and public administration,
as well as in the Elliott School of International Affairs, the Graduate
School of Education and Human Development, the School of Public Health
and Health Services, the School of Business and Public Management, and
SEAS, says Joseph Cordes, professor of economics and international
affairs. This tradition is evident both in faculty commitment
to graduate teaching in policy studies, and also to an impressive volume
of published and grant-supported research in a wide range of policy
The fact that we ended up with four of the areas that in many
ways are interdisciplinary I think speaks to the fact that departmental
divisions are becoming less important as we look at major research activity,
Deering says political science is selecting new graduate assistants
for research projects proposed by faculty members. Muriel Atkin, professor
of history and chair of the department, says new research will be forged
through the development of new world history courses. Tong says these
seven areas, individually and collectively with the additional investments,
will help attract top undergraduate and graduate students.
When you have state-of-the-art research projects, that helps to
attract students who want to be associated with active work, Tong
says. In this case, they will be a catalyst to our researchers
to enhance their ability to get more grants and contracts, and thereby
recruit more graduate students and researchers.
Lehman says another academic excellence competition is likely in three
or four years. In the meantime, each of the seven areas must submit
annual reports of their progress. Lehman notes that input was provided
to the deans regarding programs not selected and deans were encouraged
to commit school funds to further advance those programs.
For some of the selected areas, the timing could not be better to receive
Beginning just four years ago with a first class of just seven
students, we currently have a total of 84 students enrolled in the (masters)
program, says Hal Wolman, professor of political science and public
administration and director of the masters program in public policy.
The most serious problem we face is that our growth, particularly
in the masters program, has outstripped our resources.
Kathryn Newcomer, professor of public administration and chair of the
department, says the history of excellence in public administration
dates back 40 years, propelling the program to its new designation as
a top program. During the last 20 years, the master's of public administration
program has been ranked as one of the top 10-15 MPA programs in the
country. The MPA faculty provide a large part of the core faculty for
the public policy program.
Ranked by US News and World Report in the top 20 nationally last
year, the public policy masters and PhD programs and the public
administration department are helping to chart a course of focused growth
for its six selected counterparts and the rest of the University.
Selecting public policy and public administration as one of the
seven areas of academic excellence reflects first the recognition of
the excellence of our existing programs, Wolman says. But
it also reflects an understanding of the enormous potential to take
advantage of our location in the nations capital to move us into
the front ranks of public policy and public affairs programs nationally.
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