Faculty research database in the works

A committee will spend the next two months searching for a vendor.

by Danielle Nordine

If electrical and computer engineering professor Doug Ernie wanted to find another faculty or staff member at the University of Minnesota researching plasma technology, he would have to sift through dozens of databases and Internet searches to find them. But after the launch of a University-wide, faculty expertise database, he will only have to search in one spot. âÄúAt the moment, searching for this kind of information is a bit hit-and-miss and can be a fair amount of work,âÄù Ernie, who has been involved in planning the database, said. âÄúAnd there is also the issue of the information in those databases even being current.âÄù The discussion about creating a University-wide database of faculty expertise has been going on for years, said Karen Zentner Bacig, associate to the vice provost for faculty and academic affairs. The idea has gone through different groups and departments, and the committee will spend the next two months searching for a vendor to develop the database, she said. The database would include basic information such as contact information, as well as listings of a faculty or staff memberâÄôs work in publications, current areas of research and activities, Zentner Bacig said. The database would also include templates for faculty and staff applying for grants and making résumés that would pull the information needed and make the application process much easier, she said. âÄúWe have many different mechanisms right now, but we donâÄôt have one really robust source of that information,âÄù she said. Having all the information in one place would help ensure that it is current and updated since faculty and staff wouldnâÄôt have to update multiple databases. Currently, each college has different databases for faculty and staff, as well as programs such as One Stop and personal faculty Web sites. Collaboration across the five University campuses is also difficult, and the database would link researchers from all of them. âÄúWe have a situation now where a lot of information about faculty activities is being collected redundantly by different areas of the University,âÄù said Steven Ruggles, director at the Minnesota Population Center and a faculty representative for the project. âÄúAs a faculty member, I know itâÄôs always an issue of keeping information current if youâÄôre on multiple databases,âÄù Ernie said. âÄúYou donâÄôt always update all those databases youâÄôre involved in.âÄù The main goal is to get a system that faculty and staff can use, but eventually the University hopes to open the resource to students and the community, she said. âÄúThe goal is a database across the campuses that could be used by all the UniversityâÄôs stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, the business community and citizens of the state,âÄù Ernie said. The database does present some challenges, the biggest of which is transitioning faculty over from other databases. âÄúThe biggest challenge is just getting people to use it,âÄù Zentner Bacig said. âÄúOur intention is to try to pull data from other systems to reduce the amount that individuals have to do themselves, but thereâÄôs going to be some level of data entry.âÄù Ruggles also said he is not completely confident in the databaseâÄôs usefulness. âÄúI think itâÄôs unlikely that it will be a major way people will locate others with expertise, especially since the current databases havenâÄôt been particularly useful because most people donâÄôt fill them out and keep them updated,âÄù he said. Despite the challenges, Zentner Bacig said she thinks the database will provide a unique and beneficial service. âÄúIf you Google a term or name, you get everything and the kitchen sink,âÄù Zentner Bacig said. âÄú[The database] will be a wide resource thatâÄôs a one-stop shop for people to use.âÄù