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Institute brings premier scholars to Texas A&M

Published: Sunday, February 9, 2014

Updated: Sunday, February 9, 2014 23:02


Roger Zhang

Roger Howe and his wife pass through an arch of Ross Volunteers at the TIAS gala Friday.

Yale, Harvard, Ulm — leading scholars from these institutions and others will join Texas A&M faculty to collaborate on research across campus as part of a University initiative to boost Texas A&M’s research profile.

The Texas A&M University Institute for Advanced Study, TIAS, inducted nine internationally acclaimed scholars Friday to work in residence with University faculty and students for up to 12 months.

John Junkins, TIAS director, said the institute’s mission would further the overall strength of Texas A&M’s academic colleges.

“TIAS aims to make every college in this University stronger,” Junkins said. “And working with the deans — all of the nominees come directly through the deans — we are really trying to address the most important wants and needs of the colleges.”

TIAS fellows come from a variety of backgrounds and are encouraged to work on a host of interdisciplinary projects.

Roger Howe, professor of mathematics at Yale University and 2014 TIAS Fellow, exhibits this concept. Howe may be best known for the introduction of the mathematical concept of the reductive dual pair, or a “Howe pair,” but it was his involvement in STEM education that caught the attention of TIAS.

“It has been observed that many significant advances in human knowledge occur between and across disciplines,” Howe said. “Fellows are encouraged to collaborate, to establish relationships among the University faculty and students in all colleges.”

The 2014 TIAS fellows represent a host of academic disciplines. Aside from Howe’s accomplishments in mathematics, two of the Fellows are Nobel Laureates and another is a National Medal of Science winner. Wolfgang Schleich, chair-professor of theoretical physics at Ulm University in Germany, is the farthest traveled of this year’s fellows. Claude Bouchard is the closest fellow to Texas A&M, hailing from Louisiana State University where he studies the genetics of obesity.

 Lunkins said the TIAS advisory board considers the question of what nominees have accomplished in their careers, whether they are active leaders in their field, how their expertise is applicable to the University and how well they would work with faculty and students while searching for new fellows.

“TIAS, fundamentally, is about people,” Lunkins said. “It’s about developing the people that constitute the University. We are looking for people who really know what the University is all about and that develops the next generation of students and leaders in the field.”

The idea for TIAS began as a question on a piece of paper.

“In September of 1999, I wrote a one-page white paper, lined paper, just really raising the question, ‘Does it make sense to have an institute for advanced study created at Texas A&M?’” Junkins said.

Junkins said he circulated the idea among his friends and colleagues, but nothing concrete occurred until 2008 when the University engaged in a strategic planning exercise to move forward in the coming years.  
Junkins said a major domino fell when Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp made a $5.2 million endowment possible through the Texas A&M University System’s Academic Enhancement Program. With Sharp’s contribution in addition to a $5.8 million commitment from the University, TIAS has accumulated $11 million in funding for the next five years.

Sharp said TIAS was a good investment in that it falls under the University’s larger goals of bringing talent to campus.

“I consider the system’s initial contribution of $5 million one of the best investments in the future of this great University and we certainly urge others to consider endowment as well,” Sharp said. “It is working very well with the Chancellor’s research initiative that the regents approved, dedicating $100 million over a three-year period of time to try to make these folks permanently a part of Texas A&M, to bring the focus there as well.”

Junkins said the realization of TIAS is a sign of the possibilities at Texas A&M.

“As I reflect on it, I had to relearn several times since I wrote that one paper until now,” Junkins said. “I had relearned that at Texas A&M University we can occasionally achieve the impossible dream. But it does take just a little bit longer than the merely difficult. We have managed to bring this from merely an idea to talk about TIAS in the present tense.”


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