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The Next LevelA leadership white paper explores the University’s plans for the rest of the decade.By Joel Seligman

Throughout our years together, we have sought to be a University whose quality places it among the leading research universities in this country, consistent with our core values of academic excellence, academic freedom, diversity, and commitment to our community.

In the past 10 years, we have become a stronger University with the successful initiation and financing of major new projects in the Medical Center and each school.

This year we are celebrating how far we have come.

We are ready for the Next Level.

During 2016–2020, before we are likely to initiate our next capital campaign, the senior leadership and I will work to articulate the key University initiatives that we believe will be most effective in accelerating our progress.

We view these key University initiatives as having three characteristics: (1) an ennobling social purpose; (2) where the University can make a material difference; (3) necessarily at sufficient scale.

Rigorously applying these criteria, we particularly commend four new or enhanced major initiatives:

next_levelDealing with Data: Physics doctoral student Jim Baker examines data sets from his research at the VISTA Collaboratory, a 1,000-square-foot visualization display that renders massive data sets in real time. The resource gives faculty and researchers the ability to visualize and analyze complex data instantaneously and collaboratively with colleagues and students. Baker is working with Benjamin Miller, associate director of the Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation and professor of dermatology, biochemistry and biophysics, and biomedical engineering, to develop optical biosensors small enough and sensitive enough to detect individual viruses or virus particles that are only one ten-millionth of a meter in size. (Photo: Adam Fenster)

Data Science

Once we raise the additional $50 million sought in our October 2013 strategic plan, we still will have a long way to go to fully be one of the nation’s leading data science programs. A major effort here is essential. Information technology is redefining the way we think, analyze information, and make decisions. Data science is ubiquitous. We would like to focus on specific areas in which we are most likely to achieve best in class or near best in class programs:

Predictive Health Analytics

Some of the biggest advances in health care will come from using data to predict individual health outcomes on the basis of treatments, genomics, as well as lifestyle and behavioral factors. We will build on programs at the Medical Center to utilize data science and biomedical informatics to improve health and health care delivery. The Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Bioinformatics Group, for example, provides systems and support to enhance research and data acquisition from the Medical Center’s health records system. Professor Henry Kautz, the Robin and Tim Wentworth Director of the Institute for Data Science, is a nationally recognized leader in data mining social media to identify global disease outbreaks in their earliest stages.

Cognitive Systems and Artificial Intelligence

The University has long been home to internationally recognized research in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. Modeling and replicating human perception is an illustration of one of the most ambitious domains in data science. To illustrate, Rajeev Raizada, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, uses magnetic resonance imaging analysis to understand the way the brain encodes and processes information. This type of work in the next decades will provide the foundation for neuroscientists to use brain scans to diagnose the underlying causes of learning disabilities such as dyslexia and to detect impairments before children struggle or fail in school.

Analytics on Demand

The ultimate goal for large-scale data analysis is to relieve the end user from the need to understand details of a platform in order to have the computer system determine the optimal use of resources. Sandhya Dwarkadas, chair of the Department of Computer Science, for example, works at the interface of hardware and software. A focus of her research is scalable support for parallelism—that is, communication and coordination mechanisms that allow computational tasks to be executed simultaneously, easily and in a portable manner. Her research helps build the basic infrastructure needed to help end users, such as medical practitioners, extract scientific knowledge from data. Along with Professor Michael Scott, Dwarkadas helped pioneer a revolutionary new approach to parallel computing called “transactional memory.” In 2011, IBM’s BlueGeneQ became the world first computer to implement hardware transactional memory.

next_levelMaking Sense of Neurological Disorders: In a promising approach that tries to take advantage of a genetic flaw at the root of one form of muscular dystrophy, Charles Thornton, the Saunders Family Distinguished Professor in Neuromuscular Research—shown here with Kirti Bhatt, a technical associate in Thornton’s lab—is exploring ways to modify RNA that interferes with the ability of muscle cells to communicate properly. By targeting the problematic RNA, Medical Center researchers hope they can induce the cells to function properly, reversing the effects of myotonic muscular dystrophy. (Photo: Medical Center)

Neuroscience and Neuromedicine

The brain has a unique ability to “rewire” and heal itself in response to injury, disease, and normal aging—a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. New technologies such as robotics, neural prosthetics, and stem cell biology, together with advances in functional brain imaging and the cognitive sciences, portend major advances early in the 21st century in neuroscience and neuromedicine. Our University has outstanding neuromedicine clinical programs, a world-class brain and cognitive sciences infrastructure, as well as basic and translational neuroscience research programs which address learning and memory, brain development, and fundamental wet-bench research into neural structure and function. These strengths will be further enhanced with the priority that the Medical Center has attached to the recruitment of an outstanding inaugural science director for the Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute and the recently announced Rochester Neurorestorative Institute.

We particularly will focus on three applications of neuroplasticity:

Stroke and Neurorestoration

Stroke is the leading cause of major disability in our country and the fourth leading cause of death.

The Medical Center’s Comprehensive Stroke Center offers world-class treatment and prevention of stroke, is the region’s only Comprehensive Stroke Center and has the area’s only dedicated Neuromedicine Intensive Care Unit. The vision of the Medical Center is that all those who suffer strokes will leave the hospital walking, talking, and comprehending. To achieve that, University and Medical Center faculty will collaborate across campus on (1) stroke rescue and secondary stroke prevention, (2) regulating neural regrowth and repair, and (3) ways to preserve and recover higher cognitive and language functions. Research programs in the Rochester Neurorestorative Institute will focus on neural pathways, neural prosthetics, and neuromodulatory devices (human-machine interfaces) and robotics, harnessing the resources of Hajim School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Institute for Developmental Disabilities

Individuals with developmental disabilities require comprehensive lifelong support that ranges from health, to education and employment, to recreation. The Institute for Developmental Disabilities will provide for the full range of needs of adults and children, including those with autism spectrum disorders—which now affects around 1 in 68 American children. Existing programs at the Medical Center will conduct research into brain development and communication (including the acquisition of language and the processing of sound) as well as studies of neural connectivity and neuroplasticity, and the underlying genetic and cellular root causes of developmental disabilities. The long-range goal is to be at the forefront of efforts to develop new therapies that can better treat or prevent developmental disorders.

Neurodegenerative and Neuromuscular Diseases

Our University is one of the world’s leading research centers in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases and neuromuscular disorders. For Parkinson’s patients, our Deep Brain Stimulation program gives hope and shows promise for treating depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. With respect to Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, computational models and wearable electronic devices are enabling doctors to develop more personalized therapies for those with movement disorders. Advanced telemedicine is dramatically increasing access to care. At the same time, fundamental research into neural-immune interactions is revealing how the brain becomes damaged as a consequence of chronic neuroinflammation and how neuroplasticity is regulated through the interplay between neurons and immune cells in the brain. Collectively, these combined strengths position our University to take a leadership role in this critically important area.

next_levelFocusing on Performing Arts: Rainya Heath ’14 (left) and Kasandra Reyes ’17 perform a movement exercise during a class taught by Darren Stevenson, an instructor in the International Theatre Program, in the Linda E. Sloan Studio in Todd Union, a rehearsal and student gathering space that opened in 2014. The renovated space is named in recognition of support from Linda Fisher Sloan ’67 and her husband, University Trustee Tom Sloan ’65, ’67 (MS), and is part of an ongoing initiative to establish facilities for the performing arts on the River Campus. (Photo: Adam Fenster)

Humanities and the Performing Arts

Through our classroom experience, scholarship, and creative works, the humanities and the performing arts are essential to the success of virtually every major research university. Our University long has had world-class programs in performing arts through the Eastman School and increasingly has established prowess in Arts, Sciences & Engineering through our music, theater, and dance programs. Our humanities departments long were among the most notable at the University, but particularly in the post-2008 recessionary world, we have seen a decline in student enrollments in the humanities as students have focused more on the career relevance of their studies. We will have stronger students in the professions of medicine, nursing, engineering, business, or law or among those who seek an advanced degree in science or in the humanities if we reaffirm our commitment to the liberal arts ideal of our undergraduate education through major new commitments to the humanities, including the humanities-oriented social sciences and the performing arts at Eastman, the Memorial Art Gallery, and in Arts, Sciences & Engineering. Specifically we recommend:

Creation of an Institute for the Performing Arts on the River Campus that includes music, dance, and theater. This institute will provide a vehicle to enhance our support for the performing arts by making them more visible and prominent both within the University and outside the University. Within Arts, Sciences & Engineering, the institute will strengthen the quality of student life and strengthen cocurricular activities. The institute also will strengthen collaborative bonds among Arts, Sciences & Engineering and the Eastman School and Memorial Art Gallery. Initially the institute will develop a strategic and operational plan. An important step will be to invest in infrastructure for the performing arts. Arts, Sciences & Engineering has developed a plan for a new theater on the River Campus, inspired by the philanthropy of Tom and Linda Sloan. Arts, Sciences & Engineering also is moving to create a new major in dance and is reviewing other curricular initiatives.

Creation of a Humanities Center in Arts, Sciences & Engineering, located in Rush Rhees Library, for students and faculty from all schools in the University. In the humanities and humanities-oriented social sciences, there is a rich history of successful multidisciplinary engagement. We have recognized this in the support we provide through our Humanities Project. Our challenge is to build on the success of our departments and create a Humanities Center that becomes a functional and physical hub of these aspects of multidisciplinary life in the University. This type of approach has been developed at several peer universities. A review of the 26 AAU private research universities, for example, found that 13 had established a Humanities Center to champion the humanities and often also the performing arts through public outreach, curricula, faculty and student support, conferences, workshops, or symposia, often organized around year-long themes, provided support for fellows (both internal and external) and to augment departmental contributions to the undergraduate humanities curriculum. A first step in developing the Humanities Center will be the appointment of a director for the Humanities Center who will work with faculty, students, and key board members on development of a strategic plan that will provide the basis for an enhanced commitment to the humanities and address prioritization of new or augmented programs.

Strengthening programs that involve Arts, Sciences & Engineering and the Eastman School as well as the Memorial Art Gallery. It is anticipated that the Eastman School will complete a new strategic plan and develop a request for proposals for development of Block F, the 1.6-acre undeveloped property near Eastman Theatre on Main Street. The Memorial Art Gallery also is anticipated to revise its strategic plan.

next_levelConnecting with Community: Warner School doctoral student Kristana Textor (center) works with East High School seniors Shanquise Albert (right) and Bejonta Patterson (left) as they work on a project in Science Stars!, a science education program led by April Luehmann, associate professor at the Warner School of Education. The program is one of several that Warner faculty and students undertake throughout the region to help improve education and teaching. Starting in July, the University begins its largest such initiative, when it becomes the administrative leader for East High, working with administrators, teachers, students, staff, and school district officials to improve educational outcomes for students in Greater Rochester’s largest school. (Photo: Adam Fenster)

The Revitalization of Our Community

Progress for our University is bounded by the progress of the Greater Rochester community. The stronger our community is, the stronger the University will be. While Rochester’s suburbs today generally are doing well, the City of Rochester is struggling with the highest rate of extreme poverty of any comparably sized city in the United States. The Rochester City School District perennially has graduation rates below 50 percent. We will focus on three core areas which can contribute to strengthening the Greater Rochester community:

Community Engagement

Virtually every school at the University has developed or is developing ways to strengthen community engagement. The College, for example, has more than 15 volunteer programs that involve placements for undergraduates in the community and in recent years has been notable for pioneering ways to integrate teaching and scholarship with the community. Among other examples, Arts, Sciences & Engineering students study criminal justice in a course taught by Rochester faculty and leaders in the criminal justice system and put their knowledge of biomedical engineering into practice by building adaptive technologies in partnership with faculty and local organizations. The College is currently establishing a Center for Community Engaged Education. The Medical Center continues to play a central role in community health improvement. Recently the Medical Center established the Rochester Center for Health Informatics, whose mission is to use data science to measure, study, and improve population health in our community and to serve as a model for other communities. The Medical Center also has developed STEP, an introductory component of the school’s pipeline programs that involves medical students, residents, and fellows in providing support for underrepresented and economically disadvantaged 7th through 12th graders, and the Center for Community Health, which has become a community leader in expanding and developing community-health partnerships. The frieze of the Eastman Theatre reads, “for the enrichment of community life,” and Eastman’s Community Music School and Eastman Pathways for K-12 students are widely admired. The Memorial Art Gallery hosts more than 9,000 K-12 students a year in its education programs.

K-12 Education

A paradox for Rochester and indeed many cities is that inadequate high school graduation rates often coexist with a growing need for new entrants to the workforce at levels beginning with high school graduation. The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council has made workforce development a priority. Drawing on the University’s experience developing the detailed Educational Partnership Organization plan for East High School, which incorporates best practices from the most successful public, private, and charter schools, Warner can become a national leader in the development, assessment, and implementation of best practices for public—including charter—and private K-12 schools in our most challenged cities, potentially through the establishment of a Center for the Revitalization of Urban K-12 Schools or through specific new programs.

Entrepreneurship and Economic Development

Job creation and economic development are state and local priorities. The University long has been among the nation’s leaders in patent royalties, regularly placing among the top 15 in the country. We have built on our success as an initial recipient of support from the Kauffman Foundation for campuswide entrepreneurial activity. In recent years we have created the position of vice provost for entrepreneurship, the Technology Development Fund, the Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM) Program, the Center for Medical Technology Innovation, UR Ventures, Excell Partners, our Entrepreneurs Network, the Center for Business Engagement, and most recently, formally established the Mark Ain Center for Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship and economic development are integral to our success as a University. Late in 2014, with support from the state, our affiliate, High Tech Rochester (HTR), opened offices that will serve as the cornerstone of the city’s new innovation zone. HTR will be housed in 68,000 square feet of the historic Sibley Building in downtown Rochester with new offices that will consist of coworking space, traditional office space, dry and wet labs, conference rooms, and a 100-seat auditorium. The Mark Ain Center for Entrepreneurship will provide more opportunities for students by connecting them to the community through internships, partnerships with community organizations such as the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, and helping provide a framework for community organizations to develop entrepreneurial ideas for their own students or organizations. Our student incubator at HTR and the Rush Rhees Library’s proposed iZone further will foster student innovation.


We have progressed in the past 10 years because of the increasingly unified commitment of our board, volunteer leaders, alumni, friends, faculty, students, and staff. The success of The Meliora Challenge Campaign is a testament to the loyalty, generosity, and hard work of all in the Rochester family. As we enter the final 15 months of our Campaign, let us never forget that the human beings who support the University of Rochester are our most valuable resource. Let us always live in the spirit of Meliora and seek to be ever better.