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APLU Honors UC Davis & University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Community-Focused Research Efforts During COVID-19

June 29, 2021

Washington, D.C.— Recognizing extraordinary efforts to address COVID-19-related challenges in their communities through research, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named the University of California, Davis and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as the inaugural winners of the APLU Research Response to a Community in Crisis Award. The association also honored Dr. Alicia Knoedler, Vice President for Research and Innovation at Miami University, for her tireless efforts to mentor individuals and establish national leadership programs.

“We’re thrilled to spotlight the extraordinary efforts the University of California, Davis and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have made over the past year to help their communities and regions tackle the pandemic and its fallout,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Public research universities have extraordinary capacity to tackle challenges their communities face through research and this year’s award winners have done exactly that.”

The APLU Council on Research (COR) created the new Research Response to a Community in Crisis Award to recognize universities that have demonstrated flexibility and responsiveness by rapidly and effectively applying the university’s research expertise to meet community needs in a time of crisis. COR convenes senior research officers on campuses around common issues they face in their roles. Nominees for the award had to demonstrate creativity, replicability, scalability, impact, and value to be eligible for the award. UC Davis and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign did such an outstanding job that COR selected them both.

This year, COR also created the Leave the Ladder Down Mentoring Award recognizing an outstanding individual who has played a key role in mentoring and preparing junior colleagues to become research leaders such as vice presidents of research, vice chancellor of research, provosts or presidents at research universities. Dr. Knoedler is the inaugural recipient of that award

Awardees were recognized today during COR’s virtual summer meeting.

Research Response to Community Crisis Award Winners
UC Davis convened its faculty, students, and staff and the City of Davis for its Healthy Davis Together campaign. The joint project had a simple goal: preventing the spread of COVID-19 and facilitating a coordinated and gradual return to regular community activities, including reintegration of UC Davis students into the Davis community. The project uniquely integrated epidemiologic infectious disease control measures with health behavior change strategies and extended its reach to improve the health and wellbeing of the entire community, beyond the campus boundaries. Healthy Davis Together recognized the interconnected nature of university and city life, and used a holistic approach combining science, education, and business strategies.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers developed the SHIELD: Target, Test, Tell program that allowed for an innovative COVID-19 testing program. Faculty and staff from chemistry, physics, biology, epidemiology, microbiology, computer engineering, industrial engineering, data science, and medicine came together to develop the program around a novel saliva-to-RT-qPCR testing method. This interdisciplinary program combined the saliva test with sophisticated modeling and epidemiology, information technologies, and a keen understanding of the social and behavioral aspects of a campus community to enable a safe return to on-campus operations in Fall 2020 while keeping surrounding community members safe. The team partnered with the local public health district on protocols and processes for swift contact tracing.

Leave the Ladder Down Mentoring Award
Dr. Knoedler was nominated for her work with COR, where she was largely responsible for re-inventing COR workshops aimed at developing future and new vice presidents for research (VPRs). Thanks to her leadership, the workshops became more interactive and focused on teaching and building an engaging community. Her efforts helped substantially increase participation among associate vice presidents of research. Dr. Knoelder also championed and co-led the COR Leadership Fellows Program, which launched in 2018. The program helps prepare participants for senior research officer roles. In three cohorts, 23 professionals have gone through the program and at least three participants have gone on to become VPRs.

“Dr. Knoedler is innovative, selfless, and making a true impact,” said Jason R. Carter, Vice President for Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education at Montana State University in his recommendation letter. “I was in one of the inaugural classes of the COR fellow program in 2018, and that experience was instrumental in helping me secure my current position.”

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