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Biodiversity Institute to Serve as Arm of New UW Research Enterprise

January 24, 2019

The University of Wyoming’s Biodiversity Institute (BI) will become the outreach and education arm of a new campuswide biodiversity research enterprise, following action by the UW Board of Trustees.

The board voted today (Thursday) in favor of a plan, presented by Vice President for Research and Economic Development Ed Synakowski, to establish a biodiversity research enterprise that uses the BI for its outreach and education functions. That includes appointment of UW botany Professor Brent Ewers as BI director and to lead the planning of, and eventually direct, the new research enterprise.

“As the university’s biodiversity director, Dr. Ewers will work directly with me, the provost and the president to define how the new biodiversity research enterprise will serve as an umbrella organization that engages all campus entities with a stake in biodiversity research,” Synakowski says. “Moreover, execution of the Biodiversity Institute outreach mission will be redefined to be strongly anchored in the new enterprise’s research mission and vision.”

The BI was established in 2012 with generous funding from Robert and Carol Berry through the Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation. Their earlier donations -- matched by the Wyoming Legislature -- made possible construction of the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center on the UW campus.

The BI, currently with a staff of five, is approaching the end of its available private operational funding. Under the plan approved by the Board of Trustees, funding to continue operating the BI through the current fiscal year will come from remaining BI resources, along with unspent, unrestricted operating dollars assigned to the Office of Research and Economic Development. Funding for the BI in the coming fiscal year and beyond will be part of the university’s budget process.

Ewers, who has led UW’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) office since 2014, is charged with leading the establishment of a UW Biodiversity Task Force to develop a plan for the overall biodiversity research enterprise by the end of 2019. The task force will include a trustee, a UW Foundation officer and representatives of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center, the Department of Botany, the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, and the Department of Zoology and Physiology.

“I look forward to working with the task force members to develop a vision and a game plan for taking UW’s biodiversity research, education and outreach to an even higher level,” says Ewers, a UW Department of Botany faculty member since 2002. “Many people across the university have already achieved distinction, nationally and internationally, in various aspects of biodiversity research, which has particular relevance in Wyoming. This effort is about building on those strengths in a coordinated, collaborative and institutionally transformative manner.”

Ewers succeeds Gary Beauvais, who has served as the BI’s interim director while also directing the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database.

The BI’s education and outreach activities will connect directly with research conducted under the new biodiversity research enterprise -- the name of which will determined by the task force. It will be based in the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center.

The goals of the task force will include:

-- Evaluating how the biodiversity research enterprise collaborates with other UW entities, including scientific collections; academic programs; research computing; the new Office of Engagement and Outreach; core laboratories; the Science Initiative; the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and the UW-National Park Service Research Center in Grand Teton National Park.

-- Determining focus areas for biodiversity research that are important to the state and in which UW will be competitive nationally and internationally.

-- Identifying private, state and federal financial resources.

-- Determining potential government, academic, private enterprise, nonprofit and international partners in biodiversity research and outreach.

Plans call for a five-person cluster hire in biodiversity through faculty retirements over two years. A process will be established for all UW departments to compete for the faculty hires, with priority placed on biodiversity research of importance to Wyoming that also can connect directly to outreach and education.

Additionally, Ewers is charged with evaluating the use of all of the space of the Berry Center and developing a plan to “capture the building’s potential as a convening center for outreach activities” that are anchored to the biodiversity research enterprise’s mission and vision.

The plan developed by the task force is expected to “provide a clear mechanism for potential reorganization of people, space and resourcing to support pursuit of a new vision for the campuswide biodiversity enterprise, one that derives its focus from cutting-edge biodiversity research, with outreach and education that is directly related and flows from research,” Synakowski says.

The organizational plan for the new research enterprise is expected to be presented to the Board of Trustees this fall and approved before the end of 2019.

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