Research Tracks

A publication of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Baylor University

Get to know Big 12 research: University of Kansas


This week, we present the 2014 Homecoming edition of our ‘Get to know Big 12 research’ series.  The Kansas Jayhawks are in Waco to take on the Bears, so we’re visiting with Kevin Boatright, the director of communications in KU’s Office of Research.


What are some of the most exciting research projects going on at Kansas?

  1. Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC) works with industry partners and federal and state agencies to invent cleaner, safer, energy-efficient technologies. Its primary focus is the development of renewable chemicals from agricultural biomass and other waste products.
  2. Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) involves multiple universities in the monitoring of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, using unmanned aerial vehicles, satellites and other technology. CReSIS research is enhancing our understanding of rapid climate change in polar regions, and the effects of that change on global sea level.
  3. Higuchi Biosciences Center is the focus of basic translational drug discovery and development research at KU. The university is working to establish the Kansas Vaccine Development Center, which will develop specific vaccines for shigella, salmonella, and yersina. The goal is to take these and other vaccines from the laboratory to human clinical trials, and eventually to life-saving applications around the world.
  4. Hall Center for the Humanities matched a $425,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant three-to-one, resulting in a $1.7 million fund to seed two new faculty research programs: Scholars on Site and Research Collaboratives. This was the Hall Centers third such grant.
  5. Achievement and Assessment Institute has received a $25 million award from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to develop and administer customized assessments for Alaska’s public schools. The agreement extends through June 2020 and is the largest award in KU history.
  6. Life Span Institute researchers will direct a new national network of experts in language and literacy development called Bridging the Word Gap Network. Funded by a $593,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the award was announced October 16 at a White House event on federal, state, and local efforts to bridge the so-called “30 million word gap.” This refers to the vast difference in the number of words that some children from poverty backgrounds hear by age 4 compared with the experiences of other more affluent children.

Tell us about some areas of research strengths at KU that people outside your campus community might not be aware of.

At Lawrence, KU adopted a strategic plan in 2012 – Bold Aspirations – that places considerable emphasis on research and doctoral education. Four themes emerged from that process that provide a focus for existing and emerging areas of strength:

  1. Sustaining the Planet, Powering the World (Energy and the Environment);
  2. Promoting Well-Being, Finding Cures (Drug Discovery, Human Development, Cancer Research);
  3. Building Communities, Expanding Opportunities (Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts); and
  4. Harnessing Information, Multiplying Knowledge (Information Technology)

Persons not familiar with KU may not be aware that our School of Pharmacy usually ranks in the top five nationally in terms of research funding from the National Institutes of Health. In 2013, the Hall Center for the Humanities hosted the international Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes annual meeting, and was recognized as one of the strongest academic programs of its kind in the world. KU’s largest designated center – the Life Span Institute – is the core of the university’s international reputation in such fields as special education, developmental disabilities, research on learning and communication disorders.

How does Kansas promote undergraduate research?

KU launched its Center for Undergraduate Research in 2012. It relates closely to the new KU Core curriculum, which encourages experiential learning. Its mission is “Transforming undergraduate education through research.” The Center informs students about research opportunities and helps them get involved. It offers a variety of workshops related to research proposal writing and presentation skills.

The Center holds competitions each semester for Undergraduate Research Awards and Student Travel Awards. It also organizes an annual Undergraduate Research Symposium that spotlights student achievement. The center supports and recognizes outstanding faculty mentoring of undergraduate students on the KU campus. KU offers transcript certification to undergraduate students through its Research Experience Program. The certification documents a student’s participation in the research process, reflected in 1) specific research-intensive coursework, 2) the design and implementation of an independent faculty-mentored project, and 3) the presentation of a research or creative product to others.

While the Center was established in 2012, the Undergraduate Research Award program dates back about 20 years.

How is KU’s research administration organization structured?

At the Lawrence campus, the Vice Chancellor for Research reports directly to the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor. The KU Medical Center in Kansas City has a similar but separate structure. At Lawrence, 10 designated research centers and institutes report to the Vice Chancellor for Research, along with the Kansas Geological Survey, the Kansas Biological Survey, two other centers, and a group of core research resource labs. The Vice Chancellor also serves as president of the KU Center for Research, Inc. (KUCR), an affiliated not-for-profit research foundation that receives and manages all sponsored project awards on behalf of the Lawrence campus. This research administration function includes Pre-Award Services, Contract Negotiations, Post-Award Services and Financial Services. Finally, the Vice Chancellor is responsible for Research Integrity as well as KU Innovation and Collaboration, an affiliated not-for-profit foundation that manages technology commercialization activity at all KU campuses.

What’s a typical day in your office like?

On any given day, I may do one or more, or sometimes all, of the following:

    • Develop and write a news release and respond to media inquiries;
    • Write and edit the monthly electronic research newsletter, KU Discovery & Innovation;
    • Produce PowerPoint presentations and write remarks, talking points or reports for senior leadership;
    • Plan, publicize, script, and manage special events, such as facilities groundbreakings and dedications, award ceremonies, and the annual meeting of the KUCR Board of Trustees;
    • Staff the internal Research Investment Council (which provides medium-size grants for collaborative projects tied to KU’s Bold Aspirations strategic plan) and represent KU Research on several on-campus, bi-campus, and off-campus committees;
    • Supervise adherence to KU’s visual identity standards and support the web administrator;
    • Take or otherwise obtain photographs for web, publications and news release purposes;
    • Respond promptly to requests from Government Relations and senior leadership for information about research at KU;
    • Assist in the hosting of distinguished visitors and delegations to research facilities on campus;
    • Serve as the public spokesperson and crisis communicator for KU Research; and
    • Take on other duties as assigned.

Thanks to Kevin Boatright and the KU Office of Research for participating in our “Get to know Big 12 research” series.  Visit their website at

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