May 6, 2019 | SPARC News

SPARC ignites in the great north

Connecting the research communities of University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota’s new innovation hub, the Special Projects and Research Collaborative (SPARC), is a system-wide resource sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Global Programs and Strategy Alliance. Launched in January 2019, SPARC was created to support researchers and administrators that want to go after large, multidisciplinary opportunities. SPARC intends to bridge the research community across all the campuses to create the strongest teams to go after these types of opportunities, leading to a stronger and more diverse research portfolio for the university.

Part of the SPARC team headed to the great north last month to connect with researchers and staff on the University of Minnesota – Duluth (UMD) campus. As part of the Duluth launch, the team hosted two brainstorming sessions and met individually with researchers during the visit, including a tour of the Large Lakes Observatory.

“We were excited by the unique suite of work that is represented in Duluth,” said Dr. Katey Pelican, SPARC Co-Director. “There are some very important players there like the Large Lakes Observatory and the Natural Resources Research Institute.”

The unique skills and expertise of all the researchers at the Duluth campus can be leveraged for large awards and programs, particularly their work with engaging a wide variety of partners. The UMD research portfolio includes $20 million in external research funding each year for their colleges and institutions. A portion of that funding goes to research on natural resources. Discussions during the visit included how Minnesota’s natural resource studies can be leveraged in terms of relationships with industry and funders.

Dr. Katey Pelican (far right) describes SPARC's goals and vision during the team's visit to the University of Minnesota - Duluth in April 2019.

Many of the UMD researchers are engaged in making a difference within their own community—from Minnesota at a state level to Duluth at a city level. One area of work that stood out was their direct work with communities, enabling them to have in-depth access to issues surrounding urban and rural cities.

“Our suite of campuses actually represent a gradient of urban to rural cities,” adds Pelican. As a mid-sized city, Duluth is uniquely positioned in the middle of our university system of very urbanized campuses to rural campuses. It offers an opportunity to look at the urban to rural spectrum in a comprehensive way. Pelican and SPARC’s other Co-Director, Dr. Amy Kircher, are interested in the idea of Duluth as a living laboratory reflective of a mid-sized city and how we can make these types of cities more resilient.

Urban to rural disconnect clearly has an influence in our country right now. The team plans to take a look at how the urban to rural spectrum of the university’s campuses can contribute to answering some questions on how to bridge these gaps between urban and rural areas.

Another theme from the visit focused on the gamut of housing issues our world faces today–from producing low-income housing in an economically viable way, all the way to policy issues of homelessness and how we can create equitable opportunities for underprivileged populations.

As a next step, SPARC is hosting a Collision event on the National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Communities opportunity. Their Collision events bring university researchers together to network and brainstorm as a way to facilitate team building and project development. Anyone not on the Minneapolis campus can join the event by Webex to build inter-campus relationships and teams.

“Part of our intent is to create a viable and vibrant research programmatic area of work at the university that can be virtual and in person,” notes Pelican. “Our intent is to build a virtual community. That virtual aspect of it reaches within campuses and across campuses. We want to make these resources and this opportunity available as widely as possible and to really convene the right teams across all campuses to go after this kind of work.”

The SPARC team has reached out to all the campuses within the University of Minnesota system and hopes to schedule visits as soon as possible.

“The resounding theme is that we are all one community and opportunities exist across the campuses.” Pelican emphasizes, “Our most promising work is really the opportunities that cut across the campuses because we offer different perspectives. Just like colleges offer different perspectives, our campuses offer different perspectives. These different perspectives are really important to the resilience of Minnesota, and really to the resilience of the country and the globe.”

Want to find out more about our next Collision event?

Our Collision event was held on May 8, 2019. More information is available here.