By Mallory Hughes
Larry Weber is the director of the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research (IIHR) and a professor of civil and environmental engineering. When the University of Iowa announced the Water Sustainability Initiative, he was eager to get involved. “IIHR has been interested in water and natural resources sustainability really since its inception,” Weber said.
The research lab opened in 1919 and water-related projects have been occurring there since the beginning. After the floods of 2008, the discussion of cluster hires at the University of Iowa began. But there was also talk of sustainability and Weber suggested at that time to focus on water sustainability. “It would be great to say that not because of, but in spite of this flood, we’re moving forward with water-related work,” he said. “We have strength in water and we’re going to use this flood as an opportunity to really advance our understanding of water in the environment.”
Shortly after, the university decided to move forward with the initiative and brought nine new faculty members to campus. Offering a community not only in their home academic department but within the cluster hire as well. “We felt that this particular initiative could benefit from was yet another community and that’s here with IIHR where we have a long history of water-related work, we have a number of senior faculty that will be able to help guide and lead and engage in these more junior faculty,” Weber said.
On the pragmatic level, there is also a number of administrative and research support staff that can provide fundamental support services to these faculty. For example, the faculty in the cluster hire do not have to worry about creating a website, for example, because IIHR has web designers available to help them. “We really see the engagement as an intellectual opportunity, for us as well as the faculty, but also as a gain of efficiency for them,” Weber said.
Although the team is just on the first step or two on a very long path, Weber said it’s easy for him to say this is really working because all of the building blocks are coming together. Most recently, Weber has met with some of the faculty to help brainstorm some federal grant ideas. “What’s important about that is sometimes, some junior faculty are expected to have their own independence, but more and more of the federal grant proposal opportunities are with these larger teams, which can be daunting for a junior faculty,” he explained.
When they are struggling to get a $25,000 or $50,000 grant funded, we can help them produce grant proposals where they lead an effort for a $2 million grant opportunity, Weber said. In the future, the Water Sustainability Initiative will not only help the faculty become successful staff on campus, but allows for a broadening of the program at IIHR because they can reach out to other disciplines beyond engineering, such as chemistry or communications. One of the keys to the Initiative is to realize that the faculty members are solving global problems relevant to Iowa.
“That’s exciting to me,” Weber said. “Iowa has some of the most relevant water issues facing our state, and those are transferable to the rest of the country and around the world.”
Faculty Hires - Water Sustainability Initiative
Ananya Sen Gupta