first vice president for research seeks to enhance the infrastructure
and culture for creativity, enterprise
Peter Alfonso became the University’s first vice president
for research on Oct. 1, 2002. UND Discovery interviewed him in
his office in Twamley Hall.
What are your goals for research at UND?
The overriding goal is to make the University of North Dakota
the best research institution that the state can afford. UND is
committed to taking its research enterprise to the next level.
Currently, we're designated as "doctoral/research-intensive,"
which is the second-highest level of the Carnegie classification.
We're well on our way of breaking into "Doctoral/Research
Universities-Extensive," the highest Carnegie classification.
Among my priorities this first year has been to align the various
components of the existing research infrastructure so that they
are linked together properly.
A second has been to acquire the missing infrastructure. An example
would be the establishment of a technology transfer officer. A
search is under way for someone to head the research commercialization
efforts of my office. The tech transfer officer will help to manage
and indeed foster the partnerships of the University and the private
sector. This, of course, focuses on economic development primarily
of the region, state, and the Upper Midwest states through business
creation and job development.
A related goal will be to further develop UND’s incubator,
which was one of the first in the United States after the passage
of the 1980 Bayh-Dole act. This act allowed universities to manage
intellectual property derived from its federally funded research.
We must also encourage the campus culture of a major research
institution. That implies a campuswide acceptance that faculty
pursuit of research and creative activity is commonplace, and
it, in turn, is supported adequately by the institution. We need
to demonstrate that research and scholarship are intimately linked,
and that research enhances the teaching and learning experience
at the undergraduate as well as the graduate level.
In summary, we must have the infrastructure and culture on campus
to make us competitive. UND is already doing a pretty good job.
The COBRE grant and the PET scanner mentioned elsewhere in this
publication are good examples. Once the infrastructure and the
culture are in place, we'll see more significant grants such as
these awarded, more cutting-edge technology equipment purchased,
and additional qualified students and faculty recruited.
What other partnerships are crucial?
Another of the tools we'll use to make it to the next Carnegie
level is to continue our partnership with our congressional delegation,
with the state, particularly through EPSCoR – the federal
initiative designed to make certain states more competitive in
seeking federal research funding – and with the city of
Grand Forks through such programs as the Faculty Research Seed
Money Program (see Page 28).
A good example of the result of cooperative federal, state, and
city support is the North Dakota Design Center, which will focus
among other things on making certain UND research products more
commercially appealing. It will be a component of our tech transfer
What role is UND playing in developing the Red River Valley Research
The important thing about the Red River Valley Research Corridor
concept is that there are sufficient data to show that economic
development moves along at a much faster pace when developing
companies are linked to a research institution. UND and North
Dakota State University will play a critical role in the success
of the Red River Valley Research Corridor. We have the knowledge
here to assist new businesses and help them to succeed faster
and at higher levels.
Talk about UND's Centers of Excellence in Research, Scholarship
and Creative Activity.
These will represent centers of excellence in all of the disciplines
within the university, some of which would have primarily economic
development impact and some of which would have quality of life
impact. The main goal is to support all of the institution's areas
of excellence across all of its disciplines.
We’re distinguishing between the federal and state definitions
of “center of excellence.” The federal centers are
primarily connected to the missions of specific agencies. An example
is the Federal Aviation Administration, which has designated UND’s
John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences as a center of excellence
for aviation education. With the state’s centers of excellence,
the main criterion is economic development.
How does research fit into the University's mission of
The main function of the University is teaching and learning.
Research and scholarship are about creating and sustaining the
knowledge base upon which teaching and learning flourish. It is
the state-of-the-art knowledge base that enables faculty to be
engaged in the highest levels of teaching. Research is not only
critical to graduate education, but it also enhances to a great
degree the undergraduate experience. I look forward to increasing
undergraduate involvement in ongoing research throughout the University’s
How do you see the future for UND research?
The future looks good for us. UND is enjoying its most successful
year ever in research. In fiscal year 2003, we received more than
$71 million in total sponsored program awards, a remarkable increase
of 30 percent over fiscal year 2002, and recorded more than $68
million in expenditures, an impressive 18 percent increase. We
have made excellent faculty hires during the past year, recently
have made impressive improvements to our research facilities and
to our financial support of research, and most importantly, have
seen a comparable increase in a number of indices of scholarship
across many of the University’s disciplines.
We will continue to support our strengths – aerospace,
medicine, and energy and environment – and at the same time
link these to our emerging strengths. We will support all of our
disciplines, and in the end our ongoing successes will foster
a host of new successes.
Peter Alfonso Profile
- Ph.D. in speech science and experimental phonetics, Purdue
- Professor and researcher at the University of Illinois, University
of Connecticut, and University of Nijemgen in the Netherlands.
- Received more than $14 million in research grants and published
more than 130 chapters, articles, and abstracts in the field
of speech acoustics, perception, and speech physiology.
- Most recently served as associate vice president and chief
research officer at the University of Tennessee.
- Fulbright Research Scholar, Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing
Association, Fellow of the American Council on Education.