Water spout
The Water UCI initiative will harness the brainpower of university experts, government entities, public agencies, the private sector and user groups to identify effective solutions to global water issues. Hoang Xuan Pham / UC Irvine

Everyone has heard the saying “Two heads are better than one.” This is especially true when it comes to research and projects designed to advance the human condition. Last fall, UC Irvine introduced the Interschool Academic Initiative program to identify, develop and support areas of multidisciplinary excellence. Recently, three new efforts were announced as part of that program: the Initiative for Data Science at UC Irvine, the Medical Humanities Initiative and Water UCI. They join previously launched interschool initiatives in sustainability and exercise science.

“UC Irvine knows the best way to continue its ascent among the ranks of globally preeminent research universities is to transcend traditional academic boundaries,” says Al Bennett, vice provost for academic initiatives and former dean of biological sciences. “These three newly added, multidisciplinary projects – and the faculty that will come together as a result – will make great strides to address complex social challenges, make distinctive contributions to important and/or emergent fields of inquiry, and develop innovative academic programs.”

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor, the Interschool Academic Initiative program provides up to $150,000 annually for three years to faculty teams in identified areas. Funding may be used for specialized administrative support, research partnerships, workshops or conferences, collaboration with academic units on new graduate concentrations or emphases and undergraduate minors, coordination of grant applications, outreach and community engagement.

This year, 34 proposals were submitted for consideration. The three initiatives discussed below were chosen based on the possibility of achieving leadership in the proposed area, diversity of faculty participation, commitment of the leadership team, effectiveness of the plan, and likelihood of evolving into a more self-sustaining activity after three years.

Initiative for Data Science at UC Irvine

In an increasingly data-centric world, electronic information has become a critical element in modern research, education, medicine and business. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2020, information technology departments will be monitoring 50 times more data than they are today. The data science initiative will bring together faculty from almost every school to explore overlapping interests in the area of data science/big data, including methodology, infrastructure, theory, policy and education.

Medical Humanities Initiative

Uniting faculty from the School of Humanities, the School of Medicine, the School of Social Sciences and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, this initiative in medical humanities aims to advance a holistic understanding of the conditions and possibilities for health, healing and well-being. Activities will focus on promoting a healthcare model that’s patient-centered, culturally sensitive and responsive to community needs.

Water UCI

This initiative will foster collaboration in the fields of fundamental and applied water science, technology, engineering, management and policy. The team will tackle “grand challenges” – high-consequence, high-uncertainty problems that entail unprecedented mitigation costs, have the potential to generate social conflict, and may be approaching irreversibility. California will be used as both a point of departure to address global water issues and a benchmark for applying innovations in areas such as water resource monitoring, groundwater management, wastewater recycling and demand-side management.