Face to Face with our Mission

June 2021

With spring term behind us and vaccines in the arms of so many, we’re emerging from the pandemic to see each other in-person and to work side-by-side, in many cases as new colleagues. In fact, I’ve felt no greater joy over the last few months than simply to see colleagues in person, to share both work and personal conversations and discuss the ever growing Knight Campus activities.

With the relaxation of outdoor face covering restrictions and an amazing Oregon spring, our terrace is doing exactly what it is was designed to do – bring people together and promote the exchange of ideas.

We’re not the only ones noticing. Our building design continues to receive national awards and attention. Last month the American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education named the Knight Campus as one of 11 exemplary "state-of-the-art designs of schools and learning centers" to receive its 2021 Education Facility Design Award. Earlier this spring, the Knight Campus earned honors in the Society for College and University Planning’s (SCUP) 2021 Excellence Awards in the SCUP/AIA-CAE Excellence in Architecture category.

Our forward-leaning vision is taking shape with the arrival of new faculty, as well. Paul Dalton, a materials scientist whose revolutionary 3D-printing techniques could make us a worldwide hub in the field, started work this term. Paul’s body of work personifies the mission and vision of the Knight Campus in many ways. Over the course of his career, he’s translated novel scientific discoveries into technologies, products and therapies that benefit people. We introduce Paul to the larger UO community in this feature story. Even more recently, the Knight Campus welcomed Courosh Mehanian, an expert in machine learning and computer vision, who will contribute to the growth of the Center for Biomedical Data Science.

Meanwhile, we look forward to the arrival of additional talented faculty members. Nick Willett, whose work centers on a systems integration approach to musculoskeletal disease and regenerative and rehabilitation engineering, is slated to start in August. Gabriella Lindberg, who is focused on the design of cell-instructive hydrogels, bioinks, and bioresins, is set to start in October. And finally, Felix Deku, a bioengineer who spent the last three years working on microfabrication of innovative neural interface devices in industry in the Bay Area will start his appointment next spring. We will continue recruiting for faculty in the fall with two searches, one for a senior bioengineer and the second for a senior data scientist to lead the Center for Biomedical Data Science.

We continue to work on our goal of inclusion and diversity in science and engineering through our new post-doctoral program supported by the newly created Center for Translational Biomedical Research, a partnership between PeaceHealth and the Knight Campus. The center aims to forge biomedical research collaborations that produce increased research grant funding, journal publications and translation of new medical technologies. The center’s first effort creates postdoctoral fellowships for candidates from underrepresented communities in science and engineering (as defined by the NSF). Fellows will work with UO faculty members and PeaceHealth clinicians on mentored independent research projects with a clinical emphasis. Beyond the traditional research opportunity the fellowships offer career development support tailored to the development of postdoctoral scientists and engineers.

A panel of UO and PeaceHealth representatives selected the projects to receive initial support and the chosen project PIs selected the post-doctoral fellows. The fellows will work on projects focused on 3D printing for surgical planning, impacts of microbiota on neurodevelopment, rehabilitation strategies for osteoarthritis and prevention of COVID-19 in Latinx communities.

We are almost halfway through our third year of creating opportunities for undergraduates who are interested in careers in translational science. The Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholars Program has its largest cohort to date. I encourage you to become acquainted with this year’s group of 12 students.

Our efforts for undergraduates also include the launch this fall of a minor in bioengineering. The minor, the first undergraduate offering of the Knight Campus and the UO’s first undergraduate engineering offering, has been designed to complement a STEM major’s work in biology, chemistry and biochemistry; human physiology or physics.

Finally, and perhaps most reflective of a return to face-to-face interactions, this summer, 83 students are starting in the Knight Campus Graduate Internship Program. They begin their on-campus training this month. This fall, we also plan to welcome ten new students to the bioengineering doctorate program, a joint effort with Oregon State University. That program has already exceeded early enrollment expectations.

I’m so proud of how our students, faculty and staff weathered the pandemic and came out stronger. And now, I can’t wait to continue to use our building as designed, as a place to meet and interact, to collaborate to innovate. I do hope to see you in our new building soon.