16 Aug Waisman director leading early stages of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery
Madison, Wis. – If everything goes according to schedule, the newest multimillion-dollar research institution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be erected sometime after 2010.
But even as architects design the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID), campus leaders are busy forging its identity.
Marsha Seltzer, a researcher on developmental disabilities, has taken the helm as interim director of WID, a $375 million multidisciplinary public-private research institution that could become one of the most distinguished facilities of its kind.
Seltzer is uniquely suited to the position based on her four years as director of UW-Madison’s Waisman Center, said her appointer, UW-Madison Graduate School Dean Martin Cadwallader.
“I wanted to move now and put some leadership in the position,” Cadwallader said. “Marsha is used to working with the scale that’s involved here.”
Both Waisman and WID are unquestionably large-scale operations.
Waisman, a complex of 60 laboratories for basic and clinical biomedical and behavioral research, clinical services, education, and outreach – each employing an average of 10 people – is one of the largest interdisciplinary centers at UW-Madison.
WID will be built and funded with the help of three $50 million grants from John and Tashia Morgridge, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and the State of Wisconsin.
Seltzer pointed out that the institutes will be in the same league as many multidisciplinary research institutes she has inspected for comparison, including the James H. Clark Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.
A consensus-building process
As interim director for WID, Seltzer conducts luncheons, open town meetings and a possible seminar series in what she calls a “deliberative process of formulating the identity of the WID.”
Uniting the visions of donors and academic faculty with the best examples of collaborative research initiatives on and off campus, Seltzer said, will help produce parameters for maximizing the long-term value of research projects spawned by the institutes.
“We’ve met for a number of months to formulate the mission and the vision of the institute,” Setlzer said. “We’re trying to hear the voice of the campus… and we need to create a firm foundation for the future.”
Morgridge seed grant initiative
Much of Seltzer’s leadership will be devoted to managing a $3 million seed grant program from the Morgridges that is meant to jump-start the private side of WID, which will be known as the Morgridge Institutes for Research.
The program will fund the first group of researchers to benefit from WID long before the building is completed. A series of two-year pilot grants will be awarded this fall by a faculty committee to those who bring ideas consistent with the mission of WID.
Earlier this summer, research groups in industry and academia submitted more than 220 initial proposals now in the final stages of review. In a few weeks, 30 to 40 of these groups will receive invitations to submit full proposals.
The funding challenge
Seltzer also brings experience with another significant challenge the WID will face: acquiring public research funding. According to WARF and UW-Madison, institutes like WID currently face an intensely competitive environment as federal funding for the university has reached a plateau and state funding continues its downward trend.
Cadwallader pointed out that the Waisman Center is heavily dependent on grants from the National Institutes for Health, an agency under U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The research that will go in the WID will tend to be the kind of research that is supported by NIH,” Cadwallader said.
Having just received a renewal of its core grant, the Waisman Center is entering a period of growth and stability, Seltzer said, which will allow her to purchase time from her staff to develop ideas for WID.
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• Morgridge gift enables phase one of Institute for Discovery
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