Planning a Grand Challenges Research Building

Seen as ‘Powerful Catalyst’ for Multidisciplinary Approaches

Quick Summary

  • Provost: “Together, we have the expertise to attack almost any problem”
  • Psychology professor Paul Hastings appointed as planning director
  • He will lay foundation for envisioning, programming and fundraising

UC Davis is embarking on a plan to develop a multidisciplinary research building in support of the university’s work on Grand Challenges.

Ralph J. Hexter, provost and executive vice chancellor, has appointed Paul Hastings, professor of psychology and former interim dean of the School of Education, as planning director. His initial charge: Oversee a consultative process that results in the creation of a plan for envisioning, programming and fundraising for such a building.

Paul Hastings mugshot

Hastings said he is eager to take on the challenge of the Multidisciplinary Grand Challenges Building. “As soon as Provost Hexter began to discuss this idea with me, I was hooked,” Hastings said. “I see this new building as resonating with what I have always appreciated as a core value of UC Davis, that we learn more and learn better by working between and across academic disciplines.

“This is reflected in the university’s many multidisciplinary research centers, in its graduate group structure, in several of the undergraduate majors, and in departments that include faculty from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds.”

Hastings himself is affiliated with the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, with faculty from psychology, linguistics, human ecology, philosophy, biomedical engineering and other departments and centers.

‘Open, collaborative spirit’

“I am excited by the opportunity to help with the creation of the physical infrastructure that the university needs to scaffold the translation of this open, collaborative spirit into efforts focused on addressing major issues in our state, nation and world,” Hastings said.

Ralph J. Hexter mugshot

Hexter cited the broad and comprehensive array of research subjects addressed at UC Davis as perhaps the university’s greatest strength. “Together, we have the expertise to attack almost any problem,” he said.

“However, to be maximally effective, it is critical that this expertise be mobilized and leveraged in a coordinated and collaborative manner that reaches across the boundaries between departments, colleges and disciplines.

“Physical co-location is a powerful catalyst for generating multidisciplinary approaches to grand challenges facing society, but there is no major research space on campus that is purposely targeted at meeting the need for the kind of space required for co-location.”

A draw for external support

Researchers in the building will not only have the opportunity to forge powerful new collaborations, Hexter said, but should be well positioned to gain substantially higher levels of research support from external funding agencies.

“Indeed, the very idea that the research power of UC Davis would be harnessed to address the globe’s most pressing problems will, we believe, inspire philanthropists to partner with the university to build the facility.” 

As the planning director, Hastings will lead discussions around several key questions, including, how the research themes and teams will be selected and what is the best governance model for a building that does not belong to any one school or college.

“Paul’s efforts will lay the foundation for a major campus working group that would begin in fall 2020 to coordinate the actual programming and design of this building,” Hexter said.

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