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Lisa Freeman: The central role of research in NIU’s mission

August 23, 2010
Lisa Freeman

Dr. Lisa Freeman

Despite a move across the Plains and a job chock-full of challenges, Lisa Freeman is settling quite nicely into her new post as NIU’s vice president for research and graduate studies.

Freeman, a professor of pharmacology, spent the past 15 years at Kansas State University, where she most recently served as associate vice president for Innovation at the Olathe Innovation Campus. At K-State, she earned a reputation as a highly accomplished teacher, scientist and administrator with a strong record of attracting external funding and building collaborations.

In her new role at NIU, which she began July 1, Freeman is taking those talents to an even higher level, serving as the chief administrative officer of the Graduate School and the university’s chief academic research officer.

NIU Today caught up with Freeman recently to discuss her vision for research at NIU.

NIU Today: Now that you’re settled in, what’s job No. 1?

Lisa Freeman: I’d say my first priority is communicating to the faculty that I’m here to support and facilitate their research efforts. We need to reduce barriers and reward success by making sure faculty have the time and resources they need to perform their scholarly activities. That means minimizing paperwork, for example, and providing recognition for their accomplishments.

I also want to make sure we continue to recruit and retain graduate students from diverse groups and backgrounds and that the degrees we offer them prepare them for jobs inside and outside academia.

NIU Today: How does the NIU research mission benefit students?

Sometimes we must remind ourselves that research and teaching are not at odds. Students are best served by a university that both creates and delivers new knowledge. Research must be integrated within the education mission at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Our students benefit by learning from and assisting faculty members who are on the cutting-edge of their respective fields. University research energizes faculty, provides students with opportunities to become partners in discovery, helps prepare the future workforce and ultimately plays a large role in job creation.

NIU Today: Where will the government be putting its funding dollars in coming years?

The No. 1 priority for everyone in government is jobs. But funders also are increasingly asking non-traditional partners to come together to solve society’s complex challenges in such areas as the environment, health care, and energy and sustainable-resource management.

NIU’s new and interdisciplinary Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy is just one prime example of the university aligning its academic and research focus with state and federal priorities to engage students in solving real-world problems.

NIU Today: What investments should NIU make to match federal research priorities and leverage external funding opportunities?

NIU is already making very smart investments. Through the Strategic Plan, faculty members have identified areas of strength on which to focus our research mission.

Those areas include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) engagement, nanotechnology and the physical sciences, and issues related to the environment, energy and sustainability. We hope to build on our successes and form more research partnerships.

One of my initial goals is to assess all of the data related to the university’s investment of resources toward its research mission. I want to make sure we’re getting the maximum return.

We also need to get out the word about what we do very well. We have a large number of students in engineering, for example, who are working with companies to solve real-world problems. We have been successful in recruiting and retaining significant numbers of minority graduate students as well. We contribute to building the diverse workforce of the future, and people don’t realize how successful NIU has been.

NIU Today: What excites you most about coming to NIU?

My house is undergoing a renovation so I’ve actually met a lot of students this summer at the local laundromat. I’ve met alumni around town as well. It’s quite apparent that people feel very loyal to NIU. Many students come here because they know someone who got a degree here and they want to emulate that person and be a part of a university that has such a great heritage of serving the region. NIU has a very collegial atmosphere, and human resources are always your greatest asset. I couldn’t be happier to be here. 

NIU has sights set on K-State administrator
to lead research and graduate studies