PART 1: UTC Vice Chancellor for Research Joanne Romagni describes her role as providing funding and help

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series based on an interview with the Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. It sets a foundation for subsequent articles on supporting efforts to build a targeted research effort at the institution.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“All I do is provide funding and help them (faculty) be successful,” Joanne Romagni says in describing her role as Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC).

From conversations with others, both those at the university and in the community, we would say that Romagni is understating the important leadership that she has provided since arriving at UTC six years ago from her previous position as Assistant Vice President of Research at DePaul University.

Having spent 35 years with the UT System before careers two and three, I have not only watched the evolution of the research program at UTC in recent years – something that is a priority for Chancellor Steven Angle – but also spotlighted several of those initiatives in The two most visible are the SimCenter and the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP), but we have additional articles in the pipeline highlighting the work of other faculty.

Thanks to Reinhold Mann, a friend and former colleague at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), I was able to chat with Romagni recently about her vision for the emerging research program and how she is helping bring that vision to fruition. Mann serves as a part-time Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research at UTC.

“My vision is two-fold,” Romagni told us. “I want to create a more robust and active research program, and I want us to engage more with the community.”

She credits Mann for helping her “smooth over rough spots” when she first arrived in 2015. He was Interim Director of the SimCenter at the time and was already working to establish stronger ties with the community. The most visible of those is CUIP which has drawn national attention for the work that Mina Sartipi and her team have undertaken in leading the award-winning “Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative.”

Most recently, as noted in this post, the Center and the City of Chattanooga won two of the 50 “Smart City Awards” made on an international basis. The Center also secured a $1.89 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a new model for traffic intersections that reduces energy consumption. Other partners include the University of Pittsburgh, Georgia Institute of Technology, ORNL, and the City of Chattanooga.

Right before COVID-19 impacted so many activities and initiatives, UTC has leased the entire second floor of the Edney Innovation Center which houses a number of community-and innovation-focused organizations including CO.LAB and The Enterprise Center.

Of the decision to take the space, Romagni says, “It was our opportunity to have a presence in the downtown area. You have to get off campus if you want to engage with the community.” As restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic are loosened, UTC expects to utilize the 8,000 square feet in ways that enable robust partnerships with others as well as a planned Proposal Center.

It is efforts like those incubated in the SimCenter under the leadership of Tony Skjellum (see recent article here) and CUIP that match what Romagni says is a high priority for UT.

“Randy (Boyd) wants the university to be a research powerhouse, and we (UTC) have to expand our research portfolio,” she says. “We have a lot of good researchers, but we did not have a direction.”

NEXT: How Romagni and Mann are implementing their vision.

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