An Oak Ridge Institute approved in June is expected to foster a stronger, more coordinated relationship between the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
In June, the University of Tennessee System Board of Trustees approved a resolution creating the Institute, which will be at the University of Tennessee. It will move five joint UT and ORNL programs under a single administrative “umbrella,” the university reported.
It will allow the coordinated expansion of graduate education programs to prepare scientists and engineers for a global economy that demands interdisciplinary problem-solving, teamwork, and innovation, according to a resolution proposing the Institute.
“Coordination of joint efforts through ORI (Oak Ridge Institute) will promote greater focus, efficiency, and accountability; ensure innovative education, training, and workforce development; and provide flexibility to respond to emerging research challenges and the potential of disruptive technologies,” the resolution said.
The Oak Ridge Institute will build on the “track record of success” established by ORNL and UT, the resolution said. It will be led by an executive director who will pursue interdisciplinary research and workforce development in emerging fields.
UT Interim President Randy Boyd will submit a detailed business plan for the Institute to the UT Board of Trustees at a November 8 meeting.
The resolution proposing the Institute said UT and ORNL have, during the past two decades, built joint facilities, hired prominent research teams, developed a first-of-its-kind joint graduate program, and developed interdisciplinary research initiatives that have helped to attract and retain top talent to both Tennessee and the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratory system.
“The Oak Ridge Institute is making the most of the opportunity we have in front of us,” said Stacey Patterson, UT vice president for research.
The new institute was co-created with ORNL, Boyd said.
“Our nation needs to develop the talent to lead the world,” he said.
UT Board Chair John Compton had challenged administrators during an Executive Committee meeting on May 1 to explore and propose how to dramatically increase the university’s national reputation, impact, and research rankings, according to the resolution for the Institute. In response, the administration proposed two actions: creating the Oak Ridge Institute and unifying the UT Institute of Agriculture with UT Knoxville.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said he will do everything he can as chair of the U.S. Senate energy appropriations subcommittee to support the creation of the Institute.
“The Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee is an inspired idea that will meet head on one of the most strategic needs of our country by creating a new pipeline of American-trained scientists and engineers to help the United States compete in the global economy,” Alexander said. “It also will remind everyone of the excellence and prestige of two institutions—the nation’s largest science and energy laboratory and a major research university—who have been combining forces for several decades for advanced research and the teaching of innovation and problem-solving among multiple science disciplines.”
Many of the details of the Institute are still being worked out, and they will be shared at the November 8 Board of Trustees meeting.
ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said students from a variety of universities come to ORNL for doctoral and post-doctoral work and that the new institute will ensure coordinated expansion of UT programs. Researchers with national lab experience go on to start companies, to do Nobel-winning research, and to provide the leadership and expertise demanded by labs, universities, and industries, Zacharia said.
“The most productive and profound research happens during the early part of the career,” he said. “The Institute will, in the fullness of time, provide 500 Ph.D. students who will challenge and enrich us.”
Those students would then continue to affect the world through new innovations and businesses, perhaps becoming Nobel Prize winners or staying at the lab or the University conducting research, Zacharia said.
Compton, chair of the UT Board, said there are two to three decisions made that can be considered important in a career.
“With the actions we’re taking today around research, I’m quite confident we’ll look back at this in six to 10 years as one of the most important decision we made,” he said.
The UT Board of Trustees met June 21 in Knoxville. Read this story to learn more.
A copy of the resolution language for the Oak Ridge Institute can be found in the June Board of Trustees meeting materials (see page 20): https://trustees.tennessee.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2019/07/ERS-Book-tenure-materials-redacted.pdf.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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