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N.C. State University encourages professors to explore with clusters

This year, N.C. State University implemented faculty clusters, including in bioinformatics and data-driven science, to allow professors to cross department boundaries.

Laura Severin, special assistant to the provost at NCSU and one of those responsible for implementing the program, said the cluster program is helping the university expand its research potential.

“We wanted to expand our research centers and research foci,” she said.

Severin said the program is also bringing new degree options to campus.

“We’re implementing a forensics M.A. program as well as a doctoral program (in forensics),” she said.

She said the cluster-hire initiative will also affect students, even though some clusters are research-based.

“(Faculty) might have students working as researchers as undergraduates and graduate (students),” Severin said.

But she said she doesn’t think that the setup will harm students by preventing them from training in a traditional discipline.

“Students will be trained by faculty with strong credentials and will have access to people from multiple departments,” Severin said.

But she said there might be some challenges for faculty in the cluster program, such as potentially not receiving as much credit for their work.

But Severin said the university has put policies in place to ensure that cluster hires aren’t marginalized by the department that hired them, and faculty members retain ties to their traditional department even while in the cluster.

Craig Layman, a professor of applied ecology and a member of the global environmental change and human well-being cluster, said his experiences as a cluster hire have been positive.

Layman said he doesn’t feel isolated in the cluster program.

“You still have a home department,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed the department I’m in.”

Layman said he finds the cluster’s flexibility helpful.

“The cluster program provides opportunities to faculty to pursue their own research,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

But the cluster program is a relatively new trend in higher education, and UNC-CH doesn’t have such a program.

Alan Boyette, vice provost at UNC-Greensboro, said UNC-G doesn’t currently have something similar to NCSU— although it has had such a program in the past.

Now, due to budget cuts, UNC-G relies mostly on adjunct positions in related departments for interdisciplinary work.

But he said that the university’s incoming provost, who will take office this fall, will likely evaluate such an option.

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