New hires bring new expertise to CBS

Nine faculty members were chosen out of hundreds of applications.

by Katelyn Faulks

After two years of searching, the University of Minnesota has hired nine new faculty members to fill holes in expertise, three of whom arrived in August.

The College of Biological Sciences used a new approach called cluster hiring to identify the areas of research the college needed more expertise in. The other six hires will arrive over the next year.

Usually, new hires replace faculty members who have retired or left and often have the same areas of focus.

Elizabeth Wroblewski, CBS strategic initiatives director, said the college received several hundred applications since spring 2012.

“It was astounding,” she said. “We were really amazed [by] the number of applications, and the quality of the applicant pools was excellent.”

The three hires who have already arrived study multiple disciplines, and two are in more than one department.

Robin Wright, CBS associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, said the process was competitive and those hired are “top-notch.” She also said the best candidates possessed three traits: They built bridges between departments, were passionate about new ways of teaching and brought new expertise to the college.

“We’re not just hiring replacement faculty for one department,” Wright said. “Rather, groups of faculty that will interact and move their fields ahead in certain areas.”

Ready to collaborate

After finishing his post-doctorate at the University of Chicago, Yue Chen is now an assistant professor in the University’s  Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics department.

Chen said he applied for the position because he liked how many different areas the University researches.

“I was very impressed over here about the broad diversity of research performed at the University,” he said. “All types of disciplines from medicine to basic science, which gave me a lot of opportunity to collaborate.”

Chen’s research uses computers to identify how proteins change, which can help doctors understand how diseases function.

Chen said he’s looking forward to exploring the outdoors with his wife.

“The scenery is very beautiful,” Chen said, “lots of lakes.”

A family transition

Ran Blekhman’s 3-year-old son has already made the transition to Minnesota life.

The new assistant professor in the departments of Ecology Evolution and Behavior and Genetics, Cell Biology and Development came after completing his post-doctorate at Cornell University in
Ithaca, N.Y.

“[My family] loves it here,” he said. “There are so many things for them to do, especially for the little one.”

Blekhman’s research examines the bacteria found in and on the body to find out how they affect humans.

The bacteria, he said, interact with humans most commonly through diseases. If scientists can understand how this interaction happens, they may be able to predict a patient’s risk for cancer, for example.

‘A real loss’ for his last college

Peter Kennedy, who previously worked at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., is excited to do research out in the field.

He now works as an associate professor for the Plant Biology and EEB departments.

Kennedy said he applied because the departments are “very strong” in the research he’s interested in and he wanted the opportunity to work with colleagues and students.

“The facilities are fantastic,” he said. “My colleagues are great, and interactions with students have been positive so far.”

Although he misses his colleagues in Portland, Kennedy said the opportunities to teach, research and explore a new area were “too great to turn down.”

Wendy McLennan, a lab coordinator and instructor at Lewis and Clark, said Kennedy’s move is a loss for them, but she understood why he had to go.

“Peter was the perfect colleague because he was a great listener, really smart, kind. Students loved him; faculty and staff loved him,” she said. “He brightened everyone’s day.”

At a national meeting last month, Wright said one of Kennedy’s former colleagues jokingly accused her of stealing him from the college.

All of the new faculty will help the college move forward in different areas, Wright said, and help develop new strengths.

“It’s nice to have people that are new,” Wright said, “with fresh eyes.”