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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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SDSU is on track to have hired at least 240 new tenure-track faculty members by the end of 2017. (Photo: Tim Mantoani) SDSU is on track to have hired at least 240 new tenure-track faculty members by the end of 2017. (Photo: Tim Mantoani)

Building on Excellence

SDSU’s Areas of Excellence promote collaboration across campus.
By Michael Price

San Diego State University’s Areas of Excellence—a collection of seven interdisciplinary research collaborations across campus—were designed not only to recognize the university’s existing strengths in various research areas, but also to catalyze future research expertise and collaboration through targeted hiring and grant-winning. Now, five years after the Areas of Excellence concept was introduced by the university’s strategic plan in 2013, it is clear the strategy is working. SDSU has hired 23 new tenure-track faculty members who work in Areas of Excellence clusters and searches for five additional hires are underway. Since fiscal year 2014-15, faculty working in the Areas of Excellence have been awarded 31 research grants totaling $4.2 million.

"Areas of Excellence hires have proved to be extremely important,” said Stephen Welter, SDSU’s vice president for research and dean of Graduate Affairs. “Faculty hired through this initiative have been asked to look for intellectual common ground to spur cross-disciplinary and cross-college collaboration, and they have succeeded.”

The Areas of Excellence are:These clusters involve researchers from the Colleges of Engineering, Health and Human Services, Sciences, Arts and Letters and Professional Studies and Fine Arts. The interdisciplinary nature of their projects reflects the rising popularity of collaborative science within academia, Welter said, helping SDSU attract top-flight scientific talent and compete even more successfully for federal research funding—both within the Areas of Excellence and beyond.

These hiring efforts play into the university’s broader goal to hire 300 new tenure-track faculty members over a five-year period, which concludes next year. The university is on track to have hired at least 240 of these faculty members by the end of the year.

Biologist Nicholas Shikuma, who was hired in 2015 and works in the Viral Information Institute, has seen the fruits of these efforts in his own lab, as well as in his collaborations with other scientists on campus.

“I am confident that my lab's presence has boosted the cross-disciplinary nature of labs in the Viral Information Institute, and at SDSU more broadly,” he said. “For example, my lab is starting a new direction of research to study resident microbes from the human gut and their impact on host health, in collaboration with Rob Edwards' and Forest Rohwer's groups. The collaborative environment at SDSU made this new project possible, and I foresee many other collaborations in the pipeline, as well.”