“Explore-to-Build” Program Encourages Interdisciplinary Research

The University of Virginia has long looked to expand and promote interdisciplinary research and projects from faculty and staff. Now, the “Explore-to-Build” program is helping UVa to achieve that mission.

According to Vice President for Research M.K. Ramasubramanian, the goal of the project is for faculty and staff applicants to “take cross-disciplinary, innovative, and comprehensive approaches to major issues facing the world in the 21st century” and to ultimately create pan-University institutes that will have potential for worldwide impact.

Thus far, three projects have been chosen for funding of $100,000 under the “Explore-to-Build” program – an initiative that UVa began last fall to stimulate collaboration among various departments in the University. This year’s selected projects include the Institute for Dynamics of Healthy Development, the Cyber Innovation and Society Institute, and the Initiative for the Study of Equity Through Community-Engaged Scholarship.

Researcher and Professor Steven Boker proposed the Institute for Dynamics of Healthy Development, one of the ideas chosen by Ramasubramanian and his team in the most recent selection cycle of the program. Boker explained that the initiative’s goal is to position a few select projects for potential selection in the fall as pan-University institutes.

“We are now considered to be a center,” he said. “The next round of funding proposals will be to hopefully turn it into an institute.”

Shown: Steven Boker

As early as last fall, UVa faculty and staff were invited to apply to compete for the creation of their own pan-University institutes, and each proposal was required to involve multiple schools at the University. Professor Boker noted that this initiative reflects a larger effort by the University to promote and expand research in a way that puts various departments and groups of people in talks with one another in the world of academic study.

“UVa is definitely on an upward trend with respect to research,” Boker said. “Our ‘Explore-to-Build’ project was picked because UVa already is one of the leaders in the area of lifespan development: the study of how humans develop across the entire span of their lives. We believe that our interdisciplinary (and inter-institutional and international) team has a chance to become recognized as the preeminent group of lifespan researchers in the world.”

The University chose its first pan-University institute in 2014 and now has four established institutes: the Institute of Global Infectious Diseases, the UVA Resilience Institute, the Data Science Institute, and the Brain Institute. The search for the 2018-2019 initiative is set to start this September, at which point Boker’s Center will be submitted for selection as a pan-University institute alongside other proposals from faculty and staff.

Boker hopes that Explore-to-Build funding will help his own proposal become an institute like the ones that preceded it. As far as those that will hopefully come after, the professor was quick to offer some advice for future applicants looking to establish their own institutes at UVa.

“Think big. Don’t think about how the University perceives your group.  Be somewhat interested in how the nation perceives your group. But mostly think, what can my group give the world?  How can my group change the future of the world?” he asked. “If you can answer those questions, the University, the nation and the world will have positive impressions of your group and its mission.”


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