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Seven initiatives funded through President's Innovation Fund

Feb. 15, 2006

KALAMAZOO--The results of a campuswide search for ideas that are "truly transformational" were unveiled by Western Michigan University President Judith I. Bailey Feb. 15, when she announced the selection of seven proposals to receive support through her President's Innovation Fund.

Projects to receive funding range from the establishment of a new center focused on career and human resource issues in Grand Rapids to an engineering effort aimed at getting middle school students who are eligible for the Kalamazoo Promise ready to pursue technical careers. Those two initiatives and five others were selected from among the 80 proposals submitted from literally every corner of the WMU campus.

"I am delighted not only with the caliber of the proposals submitted, but with the kind of energy and creativity the competition has sparked campuswide," says Bailey. "We had 80 teams submit ideas for consideration, and their ideas showed great energy and creativity, as well as a commitment to the University's goals and mission. Many of the proposals focus on our engagement with the communities we serve. Others use technology in ways that will serve our students and our state and nation."

The amounts awarded, the names of the project directors and the names of the proposals selected for funding are:

$289,448 to Kevin Abbott, a multimedia specialist in the Office of Information Technology, for an effort aimed at using digital media in the performing arts [read more];

$245,000 to Dr. Ikhlas Abdel-Qader to establish the WMU-Kalamazoo Promise Partnership: Promoting Engineering Careers to Female, Minority and Disadvantaged Middle School Students [read more];

$383,000 to Dr. Subra Muralidharan, professor of chemistry, to establish a Center for Nano-enabled Instrumentation and Nanofabrication [read more];

$402,232 to Dr. Marc W. Perkovic, associate professor of chemistry, for a project, dubbed Bronco Biodiesel, which will focus on recycling waste oil to produce an alternative fuel source [read more];

$212,304 to Dr. James Schultz, director of WMU-Grand Rapids, to develop a Center for Career Services and Human Resources Development at WMU's Grand Rapids campus [read more];

$116,898 to Dr. Allen Webb, professor of English, to integrate virtual reality environments into teaching and learning on campus [read more]; and

$26,512 to Kathleen Wong, assistant professor of communication, to develop an online curriculum module on diversity and engineering [read more].

The announcement marked the completion of a competitive process designed to provide cash awards to turn good ideas into reality. Bailey established the President's Innovation Fund last fall, using unrestricted gifts to establish a pool of $2 million for a series of one-time awards for work done over the next two years. Work on the funded proposals could begin as soon as next month.

Open to all members of the WMU faculty or staff, the competition drew proposals from every corner of the campus. Those submitting proposals range from top research scientists and department chairs to office support personnel and campus technical staff. All of those who submitted proposals were thanked at the reception.

The President's Innovation Fund provides one-time monetary awards that could range from $25,000 to $1 million. The president made the final selections after receiving the advice and recommendations of a nine-member review panel led by Dr. Nicholas Andreadis, dean of Extended University Programs. Five criteria were used by the review panel to develop their recommendations. The innovative idea had to advance the mission of WMU, have a significant impact on student education or University outcomes, produce measurable results, be feasible to implement and be led by individuals with expertise and experience.

The review panel used a three-tier review process in assessing each of the proposals before narrowing the group to a final recommended list. Bailey says she relied on the review panel's recommendations as she made her final funding decisions.

"The panel did a wonderful job of analyzing the proposals to determine if they were truly innovative and would significantly enhance the University's core mission," she notes. "I looked at all of the proposals as well, and found myself not only in agreement with panel's findings, but also left with a deep appreciation for the care and integrity that group brought to the process."

Digital Media in the Performing Arts
Project Director Kevin Abbott and a team of collaborators from the College of Fine Arts and the Office of Information Technology

Description: The team will work to establish WMU as a national presence in the production, research and application of innovative performing arts technology. Using the same cutting-edge technologies used in films, computer games, IMAX theatre and theme parks, the team will work with performing arts students and faculty to apply technology to College of Fine Arts performances scheduled over the next 18 months. Such tools as motion capture, stereoscopic 3D projection, computer-generated imagery, musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) and telematics video will be added to the WMU and Kalamazoo arts communities and then shared with the national performing arts community. Three public performances and shows are planned to showcase the technology, beginning late fall 2006.

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WMU-Kalamazoo Promise Partnership: Promoting Engineering Careers to Female, Minority and Economically Disadvantaged Middle School Students
Project Director Dr. Ikhlas Abdel-Qader and team members Drs. Sherif Yehia and Edmund Tsang from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Description: The goal of the project is to motivate and prepare middle school students in the Kalamazoo Public Schools to take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise and pursue college studies in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The project team will use both summer and academic-year programs to expand the horizons of economically disadvantaged, minority and female students in the Kalamazoo schools; create enthusiasm for engineering professions; create enthusiasm for taking math, science and technology courses; and create motivation for learning and growth and for thinking beyond current expectations. The team will use information technology, robotics, field trips, interaction with engineering students and personal development activities to accomplish its goals.

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Innovation-Establish a Center for Nano-Enabled Instrumentation and Nanofabrication
Project Director Dr. Subra Muralidharan and team members Drs. Nora Berrah, Sherine O. Obare, Brian Tripp, Dongil Lee and Yirong Mo from the College of Arts and Sciences

Description: The team will establish a Center for Nano-enabled Instrumentation and Nanofabrication in which the focus will be the visualization and real-time manipulation of nanomaterials to construct highly specific nanostructures that can be used as sensors, accomplish targeted drug delivery or lead to the next generation of computer chips and fuel cells. Building on technology already developed in WMU's Nanatotechnology Research and Computation Center, the researchers will simultaneously employ multiple optical, electrical and magnetic force fields to trap nanoscale objects and visualize them through modifications of existing optical microscope techniques.

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Bronco Biodiesel--Alternative Fuel Leadership: Recycling Waste Oil into Biodiesel
Project Director Dr. Marc Perkovic and team members Drs. Steven Bertman, Sarah Hill and Steven Koehler from the College of Arts and Sciences

Description: The project is designed to address the lack of biodiesel availability in Southwest Michigan and demonstrate WMU leadership in the search for viable alternative fuel sources. The team will focus on developing a systematic recycling effort that will convert waste vegetable oil into high-quality fuel called "Bronco Biodiesel." The brand and supply chain management business will be owned by the WMU Research Foundation and will coordinate all elements of community-based alternative fuel sourcing--production, wholesale distribution and retail sales in the regional market of Southwest Michigan. The effort is designed to show the viability of a community-based biodiesel production business as well as to develop a revenue-generating analytical service for the nation's growing community of biodiesel producers.

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A Proposal to Develop The Center of Career Services and Human Resources Development at the Grand Rapids Campus of WMU
Project Director Dr. James Schultz and team members Lynn Kelly-Albertson, director of Career and Student Employment Services and Dr. Eric Sauer, director, Center for Counseling and Psychological Services in Grand Rapids

Description: The new center is designed to address existing unmet community needs in metro Grand Rapids, while providing WMU graduate students with enhanced pre-graduation clinical experience as well as expanded professional opportunities after graduation. Located in WMU's Graduate Center-Downtown, the center will: enhance economic development by providing career counseling for area residents; enhance graduate opportunities in counseling by offering a career facilitator certification option; provide individual and organizational practicum experiences for graduate students in human resource development; provide incentives for existing career service providers in the area to partner with WMU; and integrate the expertise of Career and Student Employment Services specialists from WMU's main campus into the work of the Grand Rapids campus.

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Integrate Virtual Reality Environments into Teaching and Learning
Project Director Dr. Allen Webb and a team of literature professors and graduate students from the Department of English

Description: The project is designed to level the playing field for literature instructors by putting the power of new technologies to work in service of teaching great literature. By creating virtual realities that hinge on the specific literary works assigned in their classes, WMU students will be able explore and interact in virtual literary worlds, role playing and interrelating as characters, extending and altering character conduct and analyzing the impact of setting, language and dialogue on behavior and events. The virtual worlds will be created online using an award-winning open source software package called EnCore 4>.

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Online Curriculum Module on Diversity and Engineering
Project Director Kathleen Wong and a team from the School of Communication, the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Office of Information Technology

Description: The goal of the project is to develop an innovative, self-paced supplemental diversity curriculum that could be used for students in core engineering courses. The curriculum would help meet overall diversity goals and objectives in the college, demonstrate WMU's commitment to diversity in technical fields to external audiences, serve as a model for other engineering schools and position WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences as a leader in innovative diversity initiatives in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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