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COR approves Human-Computer Center charter

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 07 - October 10, 1996

The Commission on Research (COR) has approved the charter of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and a recommendation that the Center for Commercial Space Communications (CCSC) become part of the Center for Wireless Telecommunication.

The six-page HCI charter defines the center's mission, plans, funding, and governance. The center combines psychology, the social sciences, computer science, and engineering to create and evaluate information systems and applications of technology in human activities. "The mission of the (center) is to facilitate interdisciplinary faculty interaction relating to HCI issues, problems, and opportunities, and to help focus and coordinate research and service projects."

The center has received a number of research grants and will seek additional direct funding, endowments for business, agencies, and foundations, and will receive overhead funds from participating departments and the research division.

CCSC was established in 1991 with a grant from the CIT to assist the satellite industry in Virginia, combining business and engineering expertise. The Washington Space Business Roundtable gave CCSC an award for excellence in technical research and for focusing on policy and business issues facing industry. In 1992, CCSC proposed the Center for Wireless Telecommunications as a CIT Technology Development Center and CCSC became a participating group. The directors of both centers agreed with the review committee recommendation that CCSC cease to exist administratively separate from CWT. The committee commended CCSC for its pioneering interdisciplinary research and education work and urged that that effort continue.

The COR also heard from Tamara Kennelly that the library is considering cutting serials. She said the suggestion is in the `discussion phase' and cuts would not occur until spring. Faculty input will be solicited and comments should be directed to Paul Metz, Kennelly said. COR chair Mark Smith said all colleges also have representatives on the Library Committee. He asked Kennelly to tell the commission at a future date why series are being considered for cuts. Gene Brown said he would like "reassurance that cuts of serials will be compensated by increased subscriptions to electronic journals, for instance, so there will not be a net loss."

David Conn, John Muffo, and Anne McNabb made a presentation regarding the Self Study. There will be regular reports in Spectrum and there will be a web page, they said. Their comments to the commission included the following points:

This self-study will differ from those of years past in that instead of being comprehensive, it will be focus on institutional effectiveness and on a strategic component. Conn explained that this alternative is offered to schools for whom reaffirmation of accreditation is not in doubt.

Institutional effectiveness will be measured by 400 criteria or "must statements." A committee will pull together documentation indicating compliance with each criterion and draft responses. This effort is chaired by Dixon Hanna and Ann Spencer. The associate deans will respond to the effectiveness statements, the deans will review the response, and the commission will provide additional feedback. The final report will go to the accrediting agency's visiting team in December 1997.

Conn said the institutional effectiveness review offers the university "the opportunity to reassess activities and functions, highlight areas needing improvement, improve administrative efficiencies, and benchmark processes and focus on future endeavors."

The "strategic component" is "transforming Virginia Tech for the information age." McNabb chairs the steering committee, which is made up of faculty and staff members, students, and a member of the Board of Visitors. Subcommittees will focus on four "learner groups:" traditional undergraduates, non-traditional students-meaning those who are not 18-22, degree-seeking, residential students, graduate students and postdocs, and the faculty and staff. The term "learner group" was selected because the focus is the learner, not teaching methodology, McNabb said. A draft report will be prepared by spring '97 and the final report will go to the accrediting agency in December '97. The agency will not approve or disapprove, but will provide consultation and feedback regarding the usefulness to the institution of the plan.

In other business, Ken Reifsnider, associate provost for interdisciplinary programs, explained what his office will be doing. He said interdisciplinary collaboration is a thrust of the university plan. As a result, Research and Graduate Studies established the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs. Responsibilities include interdisciplinary education, radiation safety, real-estate-office liaison, and support of centers and institutes.

Education includes international cooperation, Reifsnider said. He said the university is will soon sign an agreement with Germany. He explained that of the nearly 100 centers on campus, 27 are university-level interdisciplinary centers.

He said, "Centers make universities out of diversities, define our specialties and focus our work, fill specific needs" related to education and research products, and attract funding for facilities, equipment, and student support.

Reifsnider's office will "help form teams to pursue funding; help organize university support for major proposals; help the centers run, prosper, evolve and react; and organize infrastructure and programs." He said Virginia Tech has "remarkably little" infrastructure compared to other institutions. Georgia Tech, for instance, has one support person per faculty member where Virginia Tech has one per 20 faculty members.

He listed the interdisciplinary centers and the diverse kinds of support they receive, such as CIT Technology Development Centers, the NSF-funded High Performance Polymeric Adhesives and Composites Center, and the Adhesive and Sealant Science Center, which is supported by an endowment from a professional council. In addition, the centers attract funds from other industries and agencies.

Reifsnider said the interdisciplinary programs office works closely with the Program Development Office directed by Gene Brown. Brown said the Department of Energy in Morgantown is interested in spinning off their activities related to site cleanup to research units at Virginia Tech, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of South Carolina.

For the next COR meeting, Smith asked commission members to review an animal-adoption policy that was drafted by David Moore but that the Animal Care Committee did not wish to act on.