Janet Nelson: Defining Our Focus
Idaho is an incredible place. Since joining the University of Idaho in 2016, I’ve visited researchers, students, partners and communities across the state, from the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene to the Snake River Plain; from the Magic Valley to the Treasure Valley; from metropolitan areas to rural farms and tribal lands.
I’ve found a sense of belonging here. Although I have lived in most regions of the nation, I have been struck at how comfortable I am as a resident of Idaho. The landscape and communities remind me so much of my roots in Montana, and now I see the added excitement of how I can help lead the university in a research enterprise that serves this beautiful, dynamic state.
Idaho faces many challenges, yet is rife with opportunity for discovery and innovation. The research we do at UI is vital to people, industries and the economy in our state and region, and its bene-fits ripple around the globe.
The citizens of Idaho have much in common with people everywhere. We need clean water and healthful food. We need secure energy, transportation and communications systems. We need strong and affordable health care. We need the tools to prepare for natural disasters, and to respond with resilience when they occur. We strive to understand each other and build strong communities. We need to provide affordable and outstanding education for our next generation, and provide quality jobs for our graduates. We cherish our state’s beauty and must be careful to preserve it.
I’m eager to help define the topics the university invests most heavily in — areas where our focus can make the biggest difference for Idaho, the nation and the world. Already I see great opportunity in areas such as wildfire science, cybersecurity, and the intersections of water, energy and food.
Addressing these topics is not simple. The world needs places where groups of pioneering thinkers work together, sharing their expertise and experiences and performing their work with integrity. UI is one of those places.
In January 2017, we opened our Integrated Research and Innovation Center, or IRIC. Researchers from every college on campus are represented among the IRIC’s first tenants. Their projects focus on collaboration and inventiveness in the pursuit of new knowledge, and many directly address Idaho’s pressing problems.
For example, the Intermountain Natural Hazards Collaborative investigates the causes of natural disasters such as drought, floods and wildfires, the cascading effects that occur in their wake, and the actions that could mitigate damage to landscapes and communities.
Another IRIC project, the TATERTOTS mission, connects Idaho’s landscapes to alien ones: Undergraduate researchers will study the atmosphere above to help NASA researchers developing lunar and Martian exploration techniques.
I’m excited to continue traveling Idaho and getting to know its people and needs. I’m proud to be part of our state’s national research university, and I look forward to watching our researchers and innovators improve lives, support communities and explore new territory in Idaho — and beyond.
• As UI’s vice president for Research and Economic Development, Janet Nelson oversees, coordinates and facilitates all UI research activities, including representing UI’s research interests to funding agencies and foundations, national laboratories, federal and state agencies and the private sector.