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Faculty Expert Guide Wins Innovation Award

Northwestern Scholars enhances research, collaboration and funding opportunities

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October 17, 2013 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The Northwestern University human resources team that created Northwestern Scholars has won an innovation award for its implementation of the sophisticated networking tool that links academic profiles of Northwestern faculty to the work of others across the University and the world.

The Human Resources Faculty and Staff Information System (FASIS) team that received the innovation award for Northwestern Scholars will be honored in Las Vegas Oct. 27 at a ceremony hosted by College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR).  

Launched in February 2012, the innovative networking tool includes publications and other pertinent data, mostly collected digitally and automatically, for virtually all Northwestern faculty. The data is highlighted with bold-colored graphics that show publication trends and connect the dots of varying research relationships across all fields of studies and the University’s three campuses.

Developed and maintained by the Office of Human Resources in collaboration with the Office of the Provost, Northwestern Scholars not only acts as a valuable resource for faculty, staff and administrators for enhancing research strategies, collaborations and funding opportunities. The searchable database also can serve as a media expert guide for journalists working on breaking news of the day -- whether about a celebrity with heart disease, a wrongful conviction, the government shutdown or the discovery of a lost literary work.  

Typically, such networking tools are focused in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and medicine. But understanding that innovations increasingly evolve from collaborations with the social sciences and other disciplines, Northwestern made the decision to be more inclusive.

“There is no opting in or opting out of Northwestern Scholars,” said Kathy Tessendorf, director of faculty and staff information systems, Office of Human Resources. “We wanted to make the database rich and useful across the board.”

The networking tool has the ability to capture far more than traditional books and articles, including accomplishments as diverse as music and theatrical performances and journalistic publications.

“Northwestern Scholars is a powerful tool primarily for and about the faculty, designed to enhance research efforts and collaboration that in the past often depended on personal connections,” said Pamela Beemer, associate vice president of human resources at Northwestern. 

At the same time, the largely automated database requires minimal, if any, data input from faculty. 

“Faculty are very busy people doing what they do best -- research, teaching and mentoring,” Tessendorf said. “And the system was designed to not get in the way of that wonderful work.” 

The searchable database lists collaborators and helps the scholars find new ones, aids grant-finding organizations on campus and guides administrative decisions about faculty activity and funding opportunities.

Profiles of the faculty are comprised of publications and other scholarly accomplishments, grants and user-input data, which have been “fingerprinted” using context-sensitive controlled vocabularies.

A user, for example, can browse a faculty member’s profile page to see a list of her research interests, the journals (including links to the abstracts and full text) in which she has been published, coauthors and similar experts. And the visual maps of connections with collaborators are presented through diagrams that can be manipulated a number of ways. 

Or a user interested in a term such as diabetes can search the term to discover scores of Northwestern researchers whose publications or grants are in some way associated with the disease. The search can be expanded to include non-Northwestern scientists or refined by adding terms to hone in on specific concepts related to the study of diabetes.

“Northwestern Scholars exemplifies the power of connection and innovation in higher education,” Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer said. “This tool provides a comprehensive picture of scholarly activity, and I believe it will have a profound long-term impact on the creativity and productivity of our faculty and students.”

According to the CUPA-HR criteria for the award, the innovation had to lead to “improved performance of the institution, the unit in which the department resides or the human resource department” and “advance the profession and/or promote better understanding of human resources management.”

“Ultimately, I see this tool fueling breakthrough innovation and attracting superior talent,” said Jay Walsh, vice president for research at Northwestern.

Northwestern’s strategic goals are predicated upon the ability of faculty, students and staff to collaborate in a multidisciplinary way.

“Our efforts to integrate and standardize human resources practices, coupled with a more robust human resources management system, have allowed us to introduce more innovative University-wide talent strategies,” Beemer said. “Our team responded to the need for more collaboration by utilizing our powerful workforce information system to create Northwestern Scholars.”

Other examples of how to use Northwestern Scholars

  • A researcher from the Feinberg School of Medicine looking to get an interdisciplinary research grant could look for a faculty member from the McCormick School of Engineering whose interests mesh for the purpose of that particular research project.
  • A graduate student in need of a research advisor or dissertation committee members could explore the site for that purpose.  
  • A prospective student thinking about doing graduate work at Northwestern could check out research being done in his area of interest and learn about other options. 
  • A new faculty member could learn about all the work being done in her department and throughout the University.
  • An undergraduate looking to undertake a research project could check out a particular faculty member or a department and, in the process of clicking around the site, get a better notion of how to proceed. 

The database is an outgrowth of the University’s HRIS system that deals with such functions as payroll, benefits and recruiting. The HRIS data about faculty was expanded to create Northwestern Scholars.

Publication data largely comes form SciVal Experts, an expertise profiling and research networking tool that is pre-populated with publication histories from Elsevier’s Scopus. The technology processes abstracts, journal publication titles and descriptions of a faculty’s research interests. Key concepts of the research areas also are identified.

Northwestern Scholars data sources

  • Appointments from FASIS
  • Publications automatically retrieved from SCOPUS (including PubMed)
  • Current grants from InfoEd and information from schools and affiliated institutions, including Children’s Memorial Hospital and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago  
  • Patent data from the INVO office
  • Core facilities information from the Office for Research
  • User input: research statements, additional publications, books, artistic works, education, committees, awards, honors, etc.