VCU College of Humanities and Sciences to expand faculty with focus on migration, big data, LGBTQ studies

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The College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University announced this week that it will hire faculty specializing in three key areas — migration studies with a focus on Latin America, big data science and LGBTQ studies.

The three areas of focus emerged from the College of Humanities and Sciences’ request last summer for faculty to suggest “Big Ideas” that would move the college forward. More than 50 proposals arrived from across the college’s 19 departments and two schools, and the college’s Research Advisory Council helped narrow the submissions to the three with the greatest potential to promote interdisciplinary collaboration and research, to promote community engagement, to create experiential learning experiences for students and to achieve national eminence in the proposed topic.

“Focused hiring of faculty is an effective strategy to develop creative academic programs and outreach initiatives to address relevant and emerging societal and scientific problems,” said Montserrat Fuentes, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences. “We are creating clusters of distinction around strategic research areas identified by our faculty through an internally competitive process. By bringing multiple scholars into one or more departments based on shared, interdisciplinary research interests, we will increase diversity, research dollars, scholarship, relevance and prestige at VCU.”

The initiative will involve the hiring of eight additional faculty members in six different departments in the college, with most of the searches getting underway in the fall.

“Dean Fuentes’ Big Ideas initiative has highlighted the creativity, dedication to excellence and focus on collaborative, interdisciplinary learning that exists in the college,” said Scott Gronert, Ph.D., associate dean of research in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “It is a novel model for using faculty to help guide the direction of academic units and identify initiatives that can best move VCU and the college forward. We are all excited about implementing these initiatives.”

Migration Studies: Focus Latin America

The Migration Studies: Focus Latin America initiative aims to enhance the study of Latin American immigration at VCU and position the university as a thought leader in addressing the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly diverse nation. It will involve the addition of four new faculty positions in the departments of HistorySociologyKinesiology and Health Sciences, and the School of World Studies.

The proposal was submitted by R. McKenna Brown, Ph.D., executive director of VCU’s Global Education Office and a professor in the School of World Studies; and G. Antonio Espinoza, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of History.

Few things are more constant in human history than movement.

“Few things are more constant in human history than movement,” Brown said. “Whether you subscribe to our origins in the Rift Valley or the Garden of Eden, one way or another humans have crossed mountains, deserts, oceans, rivers and borders to populate the earth. Understanding the causes and impacts of migration is understanding the human experience and placing current migration flows within a global historical context enables us to grasp key dynamics in the evolution of our society.”

The initiative will seek to raise the college’s visibility as a center of research and expertise on Latin America and Latinos/Latinas in the U.S., intensify VCU’s involvement with local and regional Latino/Latina communities, and build capacity for policy advising and professional consulting and development programs. This initiative coincides with 2017 Faculty Development Seminar which will lead an interdisciplinary team to Mexico and Guatemala to explore the topic of migration. Additional GEO awards will support curriculum development and visiting scholars in this area.

Big Data Science

The Big Data Science initiative will add a faculty member to the Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research to leverage data already being collected by various academic units at VCU, particularly in the fields of biomedical research and environmental science.

Large amounts of biological, clinical and environmental data are being amassed at an unprecedented speed and scale, such as brain imaging data, DNA sequence data, health care data and environmental data. Statisticians, computer scientists, clinicians and environmental scientists will be able to investigate massive data sets to gain insight and develop cutting-edge solutions, according to associate professor Qin Wang, Ph.D., and assistant professor Yongjia Song, Ph.D., the initiative’s sponsors from the Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research.

“The proposed initiative aims at promoting big data science as a key research area and a natural collaboration mechanism within the college and across the university, through the common interests on turning data into value and discoveries,” Wang said. “We identified two areas based upon existing research collaborations, big data in environmental studies and big data in biomedical research. This initiative aims to team up statisticians, environmental scientists, computer scientists and medical researchers to develop novel methodologies to gain knowledge and insights from the big data.”

LGBTQ Studies

The LGBTQ Studies initiative will involve hiring three new faculty members — one in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, one in the Department of History and one in the Department of Sociology.

The proposal, led by Myrl Beam, Ph.D., assistant professor of in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies; Richard Godbeer, Ph.D., director of the Humanities Research Centerand  professor in the Department of History; and Kathy Ingram, Ph.D., interim chair, Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies and associate professor in the Department of Psychology, seeks to build on VCU’s existing strength in LGBTQ studies within the college and across the university to make VCU a leader in LGBTQ studies.

Through expanded course offerings and an increase in the number of faculty engaged in research in the field, Ingram said students will have more opportunities to learn about the dynamic interdisciplinary field of LGBTQ studies and will increase their cultural competence.

“This initiative also will help shift the campus climate toward greater inclusion and will help foster a learning environment in which all kinds of difference are welcomed and valued,” Ingram said. “In addition, the LGBTQ Studies initiative will provide pathways for faculty and students to play a leadership role in service to the Greater Richmond community.”

Godbeer said the initiative’s goal is to “support, through the expansion of LGBTQ studies at VCU, the university’s goal of integrating the rigorous investigation of diversity in all its forms into our curriculum, research profile and community engagement efforts.”

“Sexuality and gender have been and are, along with race and ethnicity, crucial categories of identity in the past and in the present,” he said. “As we prepare our students and align our scholarly vision to match the opportunities and challenges of a diverse, global 21st-century world, the LGBTQ Studies hiring initiative will broaden and deepen our efforts in the college to examine through our research and teaching the ways in which conceptions of gender transgression and same-sex love and desire have shaped and continue to shape our lives.” 

Overall, Fuentes said, the College of Humanities and Sciences’ Big Ideas focused hiring of new faculty is all about collaborations.

“It is an exciting opportunity to add new faculty expertise around strategic initiative themes on migration, big data and LGBTQ studies, build bridges between departments and schools, and strengthen community engagement and scholarship to attract significant external research funding,” she said.


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