UI Foundation to promote research through new campaign

BY STACEY MURRAY | MAY 06, 2013 5:00 AM

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Chris Coffey and Tom Schnell, both University of Iowa professors and researchers, have offices sitting on opposite sides of the Iowa River. Coffey is a professor in the College of Public Health, and Schnell is an associate professor in the College of Engineering.

Despite being part of different areas of academia, their research connects under a common goal unveiled as a part of the UI Foundation’s latest fundraising push.

“Academic research at all levels is essential for a university to continue pushing the edge of discovery and innovation,” Schnell said.

The UI Foundation unveiled the newest fundraising campaign on May 2, “For Iowa. Forever More: The Campaign for the University of Iowa.”

Roughly $1 billion has been raised since 2008. The campaign aims to reach $1.7 billion by December 2016.

Dan Sandersfeld, the director of creative services at the foundation, said each college and unit identifies top priorities. Those priorities are then calculated to arrive at the grand total.

One of the campaign’s three main goals is ensuring a healthier and more sustainable world.

The work of Schnell and Coffey is an example of research made possible by private funding.

Coffey, director of the UI Clinical Trials Statistical and Data Management Center, obtained funding from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease. Coffey is studying short-term markers in patients’ bodies to determine if medications are working toward long-term progress.

Typically, the medications for this disease take a long time to show benefits, so Coffey’s research aims to measure different chemicals in the body to find signs of progress sooner.

The research is also an investment for the UI.

“Research brings a national attention to the university,” he said. “It helps with the reputation.”

Additionally, he said, researching medicine and sustainability pushes the UI into the foreground of academic discussion.

Schnell studies human factors of flight, with research interests in Live Virtual Constructive training and flight-training effectiveness.

His research analyzes data taken from simulated training and data gathered from pilots in flight to see if the experiences, cognitive workload, and situational awareness are comparable. This allows the training programs to determine if the simulations used in training adequately train pilots for real-life scenarios.

“We need to out-educate our competition abroad,” Schnell said. “The educational pipeline has a very long lag line, especially in STEM disciplines.”

While aviation studies and Parkinson’s medication seemingly don’t mesh academically, Coffey said, research in general provides a competitive tool for the university.

“It puts us in the playing field with leading institutions,” he said. “It puts Iowa in the conversation.”

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