Fall 2020: Breathing Life into an Amazing Building

We’ve long looked forward to moving into the first building of the Knight Campus, an iconic, best- in-class research and education facility.  We didn’t expect to do so under skies darkened by smoke, walking across sidewalks covered with ash amid a global pandemic.

And yet through it all, Knight Campus faculty, staff, and students are breathing life into our amazing building, embodying the spirit of the Knight Campus as they overcome unexpected adversity together.

The shared experience and successes over the last few months have done nothing but highlight the resilience, adaptability, and collaborative potential of our growing team. I am heartened by the strong community we’ve developed, which sets the stage for what’s to come this fall, as we settle into our first building.

We will celebrate a virtual grand opening with our UO community and friends in December. We’ll share more details as the date approaches. Before that, however, I want to share highlights of Knight Campus progress over the last six months even with many classes and employees still operating in a virtual environment.  

This fall, assistant professors Parisa Hosseinzadeh and Jonathan Reeder joined our faculty. Parisa is a computational biochemist who specializes in protein design, a field that could eventually lead to new treatments or earlier detection of cancer and other serious diseases. Jonathan is a materials scientist and engineer who develops next-generation wearable and implantable medical devices.

We are so appreciative of our sister units in immediately welcoming our new faculty as affiliate members in Chemistry, Materials Science and Molecular Biology.  That we’re able to attract such talented early-career researchers speaks volumes about the external interest and belief in the potential of our campus. I can’t wait to see their work take off, as they join our other Knight Campus faculty members, whose work you can follow in the new Research News section of the Knight Campus website.

In addition to new faculty, we also welcomed our inaugural class of seven graduate students at our first Impact Week last month. The week is a series of activities designed to quickly jumpstart their work in the Knight Campus ethos with robust trainings in professional development, entrepreneurship and science communications.

The Knight Campus Graduate Internship Program (KCGIP) continues its great work, with strong virtual programming and an amazing group of students. While completing coursework for their master’s degree, students lined up internships this fall at the annual interview event. Representatives from 20 companies conducted more than 300 virtual interviews. It’s remarkable given the uncertainties in the industry and the economy overall that we saw such strong engagement and a high volume of interviews.

Additionally, the graduate internship program’s efforts in diversity and inclusion continue to outpace peer programs.  Over the summer, the program hosted its annual inclusion workshop series, which culminated in the Inclusion Network Symposium in September. The virtual event featured a keynote from Mary Ellen Moore titled “More than a Checkbox.” Moore, an engineer and entrepreneur, shared her perspective and insights. The long-term effort and dedication in these areas is clearly evident in the program’s success, where 50 percent of students starting internships this fall are women and/or members of underrepresented communities.

Diversity is an essential component of excellence. As such, cultivating a diverse and inclusive community is one of the five major priorities articulated in the Knight Campus Strategic Plan completed in 2019.  KCGIP is just one example of how we are increasing diversity in the STEM pipeline and creating an inclusive scientific community. We are striving to integrate diversity into everything we do, including our graduate curriculum and curation of our speaker series to ensure the research leaders we bring to campus reflect a full spectrum of the community of scientists.

Our latest diversity initiative is a new partnership with PeaceHealth, a joint center for translational biomedical research. The center, announced this fall, will be initially focused on facilitating clinical need-based research collaborations and supporting careers of underrepresented scientists and engineers. We will recruit two fellows to work with UO faculty and PeaceHealth providers on mentored independent research with a clinical emphasis. We expect to begin advertising the program broadly by early November.

We also have a full slate of events scheduled this fall. On October 22, the Knight Campus Entrepreneurship Speaker Series will feature Michele Marcolongo, the Drosdick Endowed Dean of the College of Engineering at Villanova University. During her talk, “Start-Up Campus: How to Translate Your Scientific Discovery to a Successful Product,” she will discuss the roadmap for translating technology to product launch, as well as executing the necessary steps to create and launch a start-up company. I encourage you to register for this virtual event.

In November, the Knight Campus will host the second annual Oregon Bioengineering Symposium. Participants can now register for this virtual event. Co-organized by the UO, Oregon Health Sciences University, and Oregon State University, this year’s meeting has an emphasis on predicting complex biological systems. Twelve faculty, with representatives from each of the institutions, are slated as featured speakers. This includes the UO’s Karen Guillemin, Mike Hahn, Nick Allen, and Parisa Hosseinzadeh.

The meeting represents an important collaboration and exchange of ideas among students, researchers, industry partners and clinical practitioners in Oregon and the region. That spirit of collaboration will also be on display this week, we are partnering with OSU on a virtual booth to recruit graduate students at the annual Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) professional meeting. We’re aiming to put all of Oregon on the map for talented bioengineering graduate students who want greater breadth in their training than a single institution can provide.

The amazing progress this fall is a credit to our entire team, UO campus allies and talented partners, such as Hoffman Construction, who have worked tirelessly to overcome what has seemed like a never ending list of challenges.

Yet here we are, settling into our new building, welcoming new students and faculty, launching new programs, and forming unprecedented new partnerships. These successes are tangible indicators that the transformative impact envisioned by UO faculty and made possible by Phil and Penny’s amazing support is beginning to be realized.  The unexpected adversity of 2020 has instilled in each of us a deep sense of shared experience, steeling our resolve and defining the Knight Campus spirit as we serve our mission of science advancing society. Despite all the challenges humanity faces this fall, our words when launching the Knight Campus in 2016 have never been more relevant.

The future is now.