Faculty working in groups at tables.

It’s a match: UB speed-networking event facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration


On a 19-degree day in early March, the sun poured into Davis Hall’s expansive second-floor windows. Faculty from the Graduate School of Education and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences convened for lunch, conversation and collaborative research exploration. Rather than planning a research talk or formal introductory meeting, the fast-paced “Exploring Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Funding Opportunities” event allowed faculty from both decanal units to obtain more information about each other’s research in less time—a kind of “speed networking.”

X. Christine Wang, GSE professor and interim associate dean for interdisciplinary research, and Shambhu Upadhyaya, SEAS professor and associate dean for research and graduate education, organized the event after recognizing that both schools desired additional opportunities to explore and accelerate meaningful joint research projects.

“We’re very excited this is happening on a beautiful sunny day. I feel this weather today is a metaphor for our two decanal units. You know, it’s sunny—we’re hopeful but cold, and the temperature hasn’t risen yet,” Wang said during her opening remarks. “There are clear desires and ongoing efforts for the two units’ collaboration, but we’re not there yet. This event is designed as the beginning for us to build up the infrastructure to support our collaboration.”

Suzanne Rosenblith, GSE dean, and Kemper Lewis, SEAS dean, mixed and mingled to show support. “I’m so happy that we’re able to come together today to do some networking … It’s a really good time for us to bring together our strengths,” said Rosenblith.

Dean Lewis was equally enthusiastic about the opportunity to spark scholarly connections between the two units: “This issue of collaboration is not only part of the DNA of these two units; it’s part of our university. It’s not just rhetoric, either. There are 12 units, so there are 12 deans, and we get together often,” he said.

While eating salads and sandwiches, faculty took turns standing up and introducing themselves and their research interests. With each introduction, more common research areas came to light. Heads nodded, and smiles grew in excitement with the discovery of converging interests.

Letitia Thomas, SEAS assistant dean for diversity, was eager to learn more about her colleagues. “These chances for interdisciplinary work can only move us forward and make the work that we do richer because we have different points of view,” said Thomas, who is also a graduate of GSE’s educational administration MS program.

As the group socialized, ideas sprang into action. Two rounds of fast-paced networking sessions focused on specific research themes including:

  • Support for diverse learners
  • Cognitive or noncognitive learning processes
  • Informal and community-based learning
  • Mental health, wellness and social-emotional learning
  • Ethical and responsible research in engineering and computer science
  • Robust intelligence in social contexts
  • Human-centered computing
  • Advanced technological education

Faculty shuffled throughout the room, sharing business cards and one-page handouts detailing their research interests and the funding opportunities they wished to pursue. When interests aligned, they sat together to discuss new ideas and long-term project plans. “I discovered that Zhanpeng Jin, a faculty member in computer science, could really improve the technology side of my grant proposal, and then I could apply for funding through the National Science Foundation,” said Wang.

Creating opportunities for cross-decanal exploration is important to Wang. “University research is a big part of our work, but when we have meetings, we often talk about programs, service or administrative work. This is one of the few opportunities where we have designated space and time to just talk about research,” she said.

Faculty from both schools agreed. “I’m so glad that [Upadhyaya and Wang] came together to do this … I think what GSE brings in is that we really need to be more invested in our communities,” said Thomas. “Working with GSE faculty will help our engineering faculty see and appreciate that and incorporate it into the work they’re doing. Those are the kinds of things that we want our faculty to be more intentional about.”

According to Wang, this event will be the first of many. She and Upadhyaya plan to continue facilitating collaborative cross-decanal research events at UB. They envision potential partnerships with other UB units including
the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Professions, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and the School of Management.

Based on the shared topics at the event, Upadhyaya and Wang are currently planning a series of brown bag sessions in the coming school year. “These sessions are intended for our two schools to continue sharing research and building collaborations,” said Wang.