Let me preface this section with a few general comments as most of the remainder of the section deals with “issues”. In general we have been very pleased with the way the CERSP has come together in these first few months. The initiative for the CERSP came largely from three professors (R. G. Carbonell, G. W. Roberts, and me) who were heavily involved in the Kenan Center for Utilization of Carbon Dioxide in Manufacturing. We had the vision to establish another center, that for conducting fundamental research to underpin the entire CO2 initiative. Obviously, we are viscerally invested in this technology. The degree to which others in the CERSP have “bought into” the vision has been very gratifying. We are dependent upon the leadership of our thrust area leaders and social scientists. To date, generally, that leadership has been exhibited. Our social scientists have been extremely valuable. Denis Gray has functioned as a one-man EAB, drawing upon his experience with other STCs. And Diane Sonnenwald and her group have been extremely valuable in facilitating collaboration, especially assistance in videoconferencing and development of our websites. We are also pleased with the leadership exhibited by Molly Broad, President of the Consolidated University of North Carolina system, in supporting our effort to incorporate NC A&T as a full partner, supporting our use of existing facilities for video-conferencing, and supporting our patent initiative.
We have refined our administrative procedures since our preliminary report in March 2000. Both staff meetings and thrust area seminars are routinely held on Thursday afternoons to encourage greater participation. Videoconference/seminars are beginning to become more productive, both administratively and scientifically. They are used to communicate CERSP “business” as well as technical content. For example, we used one seminar to review for all CERSP personnel the presentation we made to our External Advisor Board (EAB) in an attempt to provide newcomers with background and to refresh our objectives in the minds of long-time participants. Student leaders have been designated for each thrust area to arrange for speakers, to provide highlights of each presentation and to take attendance to gauge the degree of interaction within and among the various thrust areas. Students have been instructed on effective video presentations, with highlights and templates being posted on our website. Videoconference meeting rooms are booked well in advance for 2001 to facilitate remote collaboration.
We have modified our weekly staff meeting format at the suggestion of our EAB. About half of our meetings will cover general administrative topics and half, “special topics”. Thus, not all of the management team need attend all meetings. For example, this summer we invited all thrust area leaders to one meeting to review objectives and to reiterate expectations of these leaders. We identified potential trouble spots and are following up with a series of meetings with all PIs of each thrust area. Our intent is to assure that all who receive CERSP support understand our objectives and focus their supported programs on meeting those objectives. We are just beginning the first of what we intend to be semiannual program reviews to assure alignment and commitment. Lack of alignment and/or commitment will have consequences.
To this end, our management team participated in a day-long seminar lead by Russ Osmond, funded by the Kenan Institute. We learned that our management team is strong on vision and analysis, but relatively weak on execution and interpersonal relations. We developed a plan to help address our weaknesses. In a second session we identified a few issues on which to focus and developed a very brief mission statement now on our website homepage:
We use CO2 research to develop and share knowledge profitably among:
* and society
for a cleaner environment.
Our website is functional and is being used increasingly to communicate internally as well as externally. For example, the semester’s schedule of thrust area seminars is posted. We have will participate more broadly in Departmental seminars; i.e., we are arranging for speakers of interest to the CERSP (eg., Prof. Esin Gulari) to speak and for the seminar to be beamed to all four CERSP sites.
We have always recognized the societal obligations we have as scientists and factored that into our planning. The students clearly “get it”, and our success in recruiting some very bright students from under-represented groups is testament to that fact. The environment clearly “sells” as does broadening opportunities throughout society for those willing to make the commitment.
World-class science is our number one objective. We have assembled a team capable of reaching this objective, and we have put into place systems to facilitate collaboration among the members of the CERSP. However, we recognize from the outset that it is possible to have 30 individually successful scientific projects, and yet fail in our mission as an NSF Center. Thus much of our attention as technical managers has gone and will go into assuring that we address the “soft” side of science—the human as well as scientific issues that fire the imagination and maintain the high degree of enthusiasm we now enjoy. The “issues” listed below largely relate to those “soft” factors.
Communication/collaboration across distances. Our initial concerns regarding integration of UT has been largely assuaged by the videoconferences. Collaboration among North Carolina and Texas researchers in Thrust Areas A and D, and to a lesser degree Thrust Area C, has been excellent in recent months and continues to improve. However, we still have a problem collaborating with our European affiliates to the desired degree due to distance and time difference. While we had Prof. Selva in our laboratory, collaboration was excellent. But with his leaving, we’re reduced to periodic teleconferences and e-mail. While data can be transmitted electronically, active exchange of ideas needed for true collaboration is difficult. As a possible solution, in order to expedite the future operative plans of the group, the Italian partners propose to have support from NSF through a research subcontract within the program. An alternative--tying in Europe as we have Texas via videoconference--is probably out of the question due to their lack of infrastructure. This will be explored, but it is unlikely.
Full partnership of NC A&T in the CERSP. Researchers there had very little background in CO2 processes (e.g., operating high pressure processes) and little of the equipment needed to conduct research in that medium. We have expended considerable energy assisting them to install equipment (e.g., CO2 headers in the laboratory) and training faculty and students. Numerous one-on-one meetings have been scheduled between PIs at NC A&T and PIs at UNC-CH and NCSU. These visitations have had a significant impact on launching the collaborations. In several cases, the students from NC A&T will actually work for weeks at a time at either UNC-CH and NCSU in order to raise their level of know-how with the CO2 systems and to make broader collaborative connections. We view the extra effort as a long-term investment in the CERSP as undergraduates at NC A&T exposed to this research may decide to go to graduate school and choose one of the other North Carolina universities. This is already paying off. For example, NC A&T faculty have recently been retained as consultants by Corporate partners.
We have recently made a conscious effort to install NC A&T personnel into leadership positions (e.g., Thrust Area B faculty and student leaders.) This will be a challenge for them as NC A&T faculty have very heavy teaching loads and thus have less time for research or other participation in CERSP activities. We have spoken with Chancellor Molly Broad, head of the 16-campus consolidated University of North Carolina about this. She supports our position in principle, but together we are searching for a practical solution. This will take time.
Commitment of PIs on the periphery. Most of the PIs have cooperated and contributed to the CERSP beyond their own narrow research interest. However, a few have not shown this commitment. This is most evident in Thrust Area B, which has been slow to gel. This area has numerous high-powered researchers with many commitments. Finding leadership able to devote the time needed for this group has been a challenge. Some collaboration is taking place, but most of that existed before the advent of the CERSP. Recently, V. N. Kabadi has enthusiastically assumed the position of Thrust Group B leader, and CERSP technical leadership has become more strongly involved in establishing an active group with numerous collaborations within the group and with other groups. Alternative organizational structures will be considered if recent changes are unfruitful. We plan to allow six months with the current organization. If the group is not working together we will try reorganizing. Thrust Area B could be dissolved and PIs assigned to other thrust areas with the most natural collaboration; e.g., Sanchez might be assigned to Thrust Area A as he is already collaborating with Johnston. Thrust Area C might also be divided as it is already rather large. Slow development in Thrust Area B was predictable, but confidence is high that the degree of collaboration will grow quickly and soon.
Lack of focus. There is a great deal of enthusiasm in the CERSP. We realize that we have the opportunity to have significant impact on several fronts, and we’re impatient to get on with it. We must fight the urge to try to do everything at once. We have engaged Russ Osmond as a management consultant to help us focus and are in the process of identifying three or four critical issues to attack. Russ also helped us recognize that most of our management team tend to be analytical and visionary, but are relatively weak in interpersonal skills and execution to a schedule. We are developing a plan to deal with these weaknesses; e.g., a more detailed five-year plan and specific focus on interpersonal issues led by our social scientists.
Parochialism. Our concerns of parochialism among the various campuses have so far proven unfounded, but we need to be vigilant lest it develop. We will be alert to any signs and nip any problems before they develop into something serious. This is a leadership issue, and it’s up to leaders at the various sites to avoid such problems. Again, our management team is diverse enough to recognize and deal with this early.
Start-up Problems The Bruker 500 MHz NMR was non-functional for six months. In addition, some minor delays were experienced in delivery of the Varian 600 MHz NMR and the new Bruker 400 MHz NMR. All are expected to be operational by September 2000. Delays of up to six months in filling certain key post doctoral positions have delayed the start of specific programs, but impact within the five-year timeframe of the Center should not be significant.