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2021 Best Practices Forum

Tuesday, May 4, 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM

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Research Resilience: Leadership Keys to Pandemic Response with Milan Mrksich, Vice President for Research



When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Northwestern took swift strategic action to confront an existential threat that generated widespread uncertainty, disruption and fear. A major early effort involved following the state’s stay-at-home order and shifting most on-campus research to highly effective remote operations. This project proved complex given the University’s vibrant, multicampus research enterprise supported by nearly $900 million in annual sponsored funding. More than 8,500 faculty, staff and students engage in active investigations across about 2 million square feet of laboratory space. This varied work involves animals, human participants, delicate instrumentation and hazardous materials — all of which require careful attention to ensure health and well-being, ongoing regulatory compliance and the preservation of vital research data. This session will take you behind the scenes to learn how the Office for Research (OR) supported Northwestern’s COVID-19 response, exploring key decisions, partnerships, challenges, successes and lessons learned from ramping down the research ecosystem — and then gradually ramping it back up with new pandemic training and safety guidelines. Attendees will gain a richer understanding of OR and Northwestern’s research enterprise, learning how the University achieved a record-level of sponsored research activity despite the pandemic, including advancing important COVID-19 science. The session will offer insights into how to manage a rapidly changing crisis by harnessing cross-unit collaborations, superior relational capital and diverse expertise. Participants also will come away with a deeper appreciation for how to approach challenge to galvanize teams, inspire operational innovation and pursue bold new opportunities. 


Learning Outcomes:

  1. Gain insight into the importance of multi-stakeholder engagement to become more adept at managing complex, high-impact collaborative projects that rely on diverse domain expertise.
  2. Increase understanding of the Office for Research and its role in Northwestern’s research enterprise—especially during a time of volatility, uncertainty and challenge.
  3. Deepen appreciation for the ways that crisis can lead to potential operational innovation and greater team purpose.

Presenter Biographies:

Ann Adams, senior associate vice president for research, oversees several key operational units within the Office for Research (OR), including the Institutional Review Board (IRB) Office, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) Office, and the Office for Export Controls Compliance, among others. Adams joined OR in 2008 and, in addition to her administrative responsibilities, has taught Northwestern courses on ethics and responsible research practices in higher education for the past 12 years. She also has been a champion for a variety of University initiatives that enhance organizational efficiency, accountability, and culture. Prior to joining OR, Adams was an associate general counsel at both The George Washington University and Northwestern. She previously worked as an associate with the law firm of Sidley & Austin in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Adams earned her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago and her bachelor’s degree from Lake Forest College.

Michael Blayney has served as executive director of the Office for Research Safety at Northwestern since 2012. Bringing 38 years of experience as a safety and health specialist, Blayney leads a team responsible for identifying the potential hazards and risks in basic science research and finding effective, practical solutions to ensure the protection of individuals, public health, and the environment. Before he arrived at Northwestern, Blayney served as director of Environmental Health and Safety at Dartmouth College (1995-2012). Additionally, he was vice president of the Hanover Water Works Company (1996-2010) and a member of the New Hampshire Waste Management Council (2001-2012). Early in his career, he worked as a technical specialist in molecular biology. Prior to Dartmouth, Blayney worked in the Division of Safety at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He received his bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College, his master’s degree from Syracuse University, and his doctoral degree from the University of Maryland at College Park.

Matt Golosinski is a communications professional with extensive academic and journalistic experience who joined Northwestern in 1999 and served in various editorial leadership roles at the Kellogg School of Management until 2011. Between 2011 and 2015 he worked as a speechwriter and communications consultant for corporate and higher education clients on three continents, before returning to Northwestern in his current capacity where he supports leadership’s strategic communications goals. While at Kellogg, he worked closely with the dean and senior associate deans to promote the academic brand and spur alumni engagement and philanthropy. He also wrote a book-length history of the school—Wide Awake in the Windy City—published in 2008 to celebrate the Kellogg centennial. Earlier in his career, Golosinski wrote frequently on music and art for alternative weeklies such as the Phoenix New Times. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he also studied neuropharmacology. He received a master’s degree in English/rhetoric with an emphasis on film studies from Northern Illinois University. He also is a graduate of the Kellogg Management Institute (KMI) program.

Milan Mrksich is a scientist, entrepreneur, and Northwestern’s vice president for research (VPR). As VPR, he oversees an integrated portfolio of expert services and resources delivered by 18 units, and he and his senior staff direct a research infrastructure with nearly $900 million in annual sponsored funding. A nationally known multidisciplinary investigator, Mrksich is an award-winning leader in the science and engineering of developing surface chemistries for life science applications. His laboratory has pioneered several technologies, including: strategies to integrate living cells with microelectronic devices; methods to enable high throughput assays for drug discovery; and approaches to making synthetic proteins for therapeutic use. He is founder of SAMDI Tech, an Illinois-based contract research organization that has commercialized his high throughput assays for discovering drug leads and that now serves global pharmaceutical companies. He also is a founder of Lyra Therapeutics, a company that has developed stents for the treatment of small vessels in ear, nose and throat diseases. Mrksich joined the University in 2011 and is the Henry Wade Rogers Professor with appointments in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, and Cell and Developmental Biology. He was founding director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology and an associate director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, where his focus included strengthening state-of-the-art instrumentation and techniques. Mrksich earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois and a doctorate degree in chemistry from Caltech. He then served as an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University before joining the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1996 prior to his Northwestern tenure.

Teri Odom is an expert in designing structured nanoscale materials that exhibit extraordinary size and shape-dependent optical and physical properties and a pioneering chemist who has created a suite of multi-scale nanofabrication tools. These tools have resulted in plasmon-based nanoscale lasers that exhibit tunable color, flat optics that can manipulate light at the nanoscale, and hierarchical substrates that show controlled wetting and super-hydrophobicity. She also has invented a class of biological nanoconstructs that are facilitating unique insight into nanoparticle-cell interactions and that show superior imaging and therapeutic properties because of their gold nanostar shape. Odom joined Northwestern in 2002, after earning her doctorate degree in chemical physics at Harvard University, where she also completed a postdoctoral fellowship. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Stanford University. Odom is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the Materials Research Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the American Chemical Society (ACS), the American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America. Her many academic honors include the RSC Centenary Prize, the ACS National Award in Surface Science, a U.S. Department of Defense Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship, and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship.