Letter from the Vice President

Dr. Keith H. McDowell
Dr. Keith H. McDowell

In 2004, The University of Alabama launched a new phase in the growth of its research programs. Setting the goal of creating a campuswide culture of excellence in scholarly activity, the University has embarked on a program to transform UA into one of the top 50 research institutions of higher education in the nation.

We will become a leader in research not only by focusing on science and engineering, but also by fostering a culture of excellence in all fields of scholarship, from fine art and literature to the “hard” sciences, and at all levels, from the work of faculty to undergraduate research experiences.

To achieve this goal, the Office of the Vice President for Research was created to provide a focal point for the University’s research infrastructure. Through this comprehensive research office, The University of Alabama now provides the administrative, training, technology, and development support needed to grow research efforts University-wide. From managing contracts and grants to nurturing partnerships with industry, government, and other universities, the office consolidates an unprecedented level of research support in a single operations center. It is an essential step toward achieving President Robert E. Witt’s goal of excellence in research while remaining a student-centered university.

As our research goals become more ambitious and our organizational engine for achieving them more powerful, we are mindful that the environment in which we conduct research is changing. Government funding, such as that provided through the National Science Foundation, increasingly emphasizes programs that are interdisciplinary and focused on workforce and economic development. In this light, the University has become a partner in President George W. Bush’s Hydrogen Research Initiative, working to make hydrogen-powered vehicles a reality. The use of hydrogen, along with other alternative fuels, could increase economic growth, improve air quality, and decrease dependence on foreign oil.

UA is also actively involved in working with community partners to strengthen its research and educational mission. As an example, a UA psychologist is collaborating with more than 60 elementary schools to implement a program he developed for improving the behavior of aggressive children, toward reducing their risk of future delinquent behavior and drug abuse. And students from three campuses—UA, Stillman College, and Shelton State Community College-are, in the words of a UA faculty member, learning “exactly what research is all about” as part of a research intern program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Elsewhere, we are developing initiatives in green manufacturing, nanotechnology, transportation, geriatrics, mental health, and issues facing rural Alabama-all areas of particular strength at The University of Alabama, and all of which lay the foundation for developing centers of research excellence.

These projects—and others profiled on the pages that follow, and on our research website, research.ua.edu-illustrate key principles that inform The University of Alabama’s research programs: collaboration, an interdisciplinary approach, and attention to issues of local as well as global importance. As we continue our drive toward excellence in research, we face an exciting and challenging year. And as we target our resources and expand the depth and breadth of our many collaborative relationships, we’re building upon our traditional strengths and developing new ones.

Keith H. McDowell
Vice President for Research, The University of Alabama