University at Buffalo Invests $25 Million to Address Pressing Societal Problems

Published June 4, 2015

The University at Buffalo is investing $25 million in an initiative that will harness the strengths of faculty from disciplines across the university to confront grand challenges facing humankind. This establishment of three new Communities of Excellence is an innovative and integrated approach to addressing critical societal challenges through impactful interdisciplinary research, education, and engagement. Through Communities of Excellence, teams of faculty, including those from the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, will work together to find solutions, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding. Faculty leaders within communities plan to create new educational opportunities that cut across multiple academic disciplines in order to address the focus area of each community.

The three Communities of Excellence, chosen from nearly 100 initial concept proposals submitted by faculty teams, are:

  • Global Health Equity. This community will work to address the challenge of global health inequity by bringing together faculty and students from the health sciences and disciplines that are focused on the social, economic, political and environmental conditions that lead to inequities. This community will tackle problems ranging from a lack of access to sanitation for women and girls in poor countries to high rates of non-communicable diseases due to complex sets of factors, including tobacco use and the environment. (Video)
  • Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART). This community will build upon UB’s reputation as a leader in advanced manufacturing and design by developing the next generation of manufacturing technologies, processes and education that enable sustainable, cost-effective production of high-quality, customizable products. SMART will leverage university and regional strength in manufacturing and partner with regional companies to educate future manufacturing leaders and shape national policy. (Video)
  • The Genome, the Environment and the Microbiome (GEM). This community will work to advance understanding of areas that will enable development of personalized medicine and empower individuals to have greater control over and understanding of their health, the human genome and the human microbiome — the trillions of microorganisms living in and on the human body. Through collaboration among the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, GEM will enhance UB’s reputation in genomics to make UB a national model for promoting and increasing genomic literacy. (Video)

The Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity will work to reduce disparities in health around the world, says co-leader Pavani Ram, MD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health and director of the Office of Global Health Initiatives. “The mission of our community is to reduce the sources and effects of inequity, and promote health and well-being among under-resourced populations,” Ram says. “Because of the different perspectives and strengths of faculty from all over the university — not only in the health sciences, but also in disciplines not routinely engaged in global health concerns but with the capacity for developing transformative solutions — we will have the ability to influence the influencers, the people who can take our solutions and implement them on the ground.” The community will address challenges such as access to sanitation for women and girls, exposure to air pollution among neonates, getting essential drugs to low-resource communities and access to sufficient quantities of high-quality food.

The university is investing $25 million over the next five years in these Communities of Excellence and RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water), which was launched last year and was UB’s model for the Communities of Excellence.  More than 300 faculty members from across the university are active participants in the Communities of Excellence; the initiative is expected to involve faculty from all UB schools, emerging from the UB 2020 plan to advance UB’s academic and research strengths in key areas.  The three new Communities of Excellence were selected after a yearlong proposal process involving recommendations from external and internal expert reviews.