By Chuck Cantrell
“The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is on a journey to excellence. We work with partners to harness our collective willpower and brainpower to find solutions that improve lives and build communities…We boldly embrace a passion for excellence in all that we do as we change lives and transform communities.”
These are the opening words of UT Chattanooga’s new strategic plan that establishes two fundamental goals: student success and community connections.
While reaching these goals will require the commitment and passion of all Chattanooga faculty and staff, several new faces on campus are taking on some of the heavy lifting. New positions have been created to focus on research development and on community partnerships and connection, while a new head of the UTC SimCenter: National Center for Computational Engineering is looking for ways to extend the center’s reach further into Chattanooga’s high-tech entrepreneurial vision and the Gig City initiative.
New Cabinet-Level Focus on Research
Joanne Romagni became UT Chattanooga’s first vice chancellor for research and dean of the graduate school in July 2015. A Chicago transplant, Romagni previously was associate vice chancellor of research at DePaul University.
“The interesting thing in this position is that there are so many different hats,” Romagni says. “You’ve got the research and creative endeavors side, which is really cool because you’re helping faculty do what they love to do. So you have to facilitate, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in history or if it’s in art; it’s really exciting to help people do what they love to do and maybe try and cut down any obstacles.”
Romagni says she was attracted to her new job because it is “the perfect intersection of all of the things that are going on.
“The campus itself is poised to make that next step…there is so much going on with the Innovation Center and the opportunity to work with Oak Ridge (National Laboratory),” Romagni says. “The administration is supporting the faculty and their endeavors–not just in words but also by providing funding for faculty, undergraduates and the graduate students. So it was a great place to come and make a difference.”
Her vision is to focus on collaboration and foster relationships. She’s partnering with Ann Yoachim—also new to UTC as its director of community partnerships—to build what they are calling Affinity Groups.
“We bring them together to start brainstorming about things they might be interested in doing and overlap into what they do,” Romagni says. “Then, how might they look for funding? How would we supplement their research and scholar so that they could continue? Because interdisciplinary is the way to go these days.”
Romagni says she’s excited about expanding undergraduate research, commends the Honors College for a “phenomenal job” building that culture, and she wants to expand opportunities further. She says she’s seen research spark passion in a student, and she’s watched C students transform into A students as a result of becoming engaged in what they study.
“They end up being the ones who go to medical school or graduate school and go on to be the professionals because of these experiences,” Romagni says.
Poised for Partnership
In preparation for her job interview, Ann Yoachim—UTC’s first director of community partnerships—visited the city to get a feel for area. Then, before accepting the position, she returned again to interact with people in communities in and around Chattanooga.
“One of the reasons I took this job was because the university is located in the heart of the city, which makes it easy to connect.” Yoachim says.
Like any city, Chattanooga is full of distinctions and traditions that make it unique, and these are what Yoachim says help her focus her vision. She considers now a pivotal time for higher education because of the changing climate nationally and changes in Tennessee, such as implementation of Tennessee Promise—a program offering two years of tuition-free community or technical college beginning with the high school class of 2015.
“One of the keys in my work involves understanding how unique places are,” she says. “It’s really important to understand the context and nuances of a certain location in order to be successful. I am excited to be joining the university at a pivotal time in its history.”
The SimCenter: National Center for Computational Engineering is an important research and educational component of UTC’s impact on its community and abroad. Launched in 2002, the SimCenter establishes next-generation technologies in computational modeling and simulation and educates a new generation of interdisciplinary computational scientists and engineers who can solve a broad range of real-world engineering problems in areas such as defense, sustainable energy, environment and health.
Reinhold Mann was named interim director of the SimCenter in summer 2015.
“I have been impressed with the accomplishments of the SimCenter since its inception,” Mann says. “Our strategy going forward can lead to innovative solutions afforded by simulation and computational science and engineering in key application areas of interest to our sponsors. This allows for extraordinary educational opportunities for our students. Chattanooga and UTC offer a very attractive and supportive environment.”
Mann’s research has been at the intersection between the physical and computational sciences, and the life and environmental sciences. He’s been at the forefront of such critical research areas as climate change, biotechnology and robotics.
Mann’s efforts engage outside sponsors of research and educational programs, SimCenter staff, researchers, faculty, department and college leadership across UTC to ensure sustainable, cutting-edge research and education at the SimCenter.
“My biggest focus is to look at what we are accomplishing, how we are accomplishing it and how we are funding it,” Mann says. “We want to be constantly working on solving the next big problem, not the last one, and if we need new partners to do that, then we need to make those connections, which is why I have been talking with people at Volkswagen and Oak Ridge (National Laboratory).”