Sunday, September 24

Vice chancellor leaves research legacy after stepping down


Dr. James Economou stepped down last quarter from his role as vice chancellor for research to return as a full-time faculty member, but left behind new programs such as campus-wide Grand Challenges initiatives, among others.

Since Economou’s appointment in 2010, his office has been integral in establishing several new programs, said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh in a statement.

Under Economou’s guidance, UCLA launched two Grand Challenges initiatives – the Sustainable L.A. and the Depression Grand Challenges – both of which stemmed from faculty ideas, said Michelle Popowitz, assistant vice chancellor for research and executive director of Grand Challenges. The program has developed into a model for research at other universities, she added.

In 2011, Economou and his office introduced Transdisciplinary Seed Grants, which encourage faculty to collaborate on new projects that contribute to research.

Popowitz said she is impressed by how much Economou accomplished. Most of the programs and changes outlined in the office’s 126-page annual report are additions Economou implemented, she added.

During Economou’s tenure, he also raised billions of dollars in research funds and developed a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem that aims to translate UCLA research to the marketplace, Waugh said in the statement.

Popowitz said Economou’s office increased collaboration across campus through the Grand Challenges initiative, which brings together faculty members and students from all disciplines to solve large-scale, pressing issues. He also established a campus-wide faculty cabinet, which suggests improvements to programs, she added.

When Popowitz and her colleague Jill Sweitzer approached Economou in 2012 with idea of creating Grand Challenges initiatives, he encouraged them to test it and see where it took them.

“If you had an idea, he gave you the space and the resources to go investigate it,” Popowitz said.

Dr. Antoni Ribas, a professor of medicine and Economou’s colleague, said Economou used the same creativity he developed as a professor, researcher and doctor in his work as an administrator.

“(Economou) is the kind of person who has it very clear what he thinks is the right or the wrong thing to do,” Ribas said. “He’s not going to (do) something he thinks is wrong, even if he has to change the current structure of things.”

While he served as vice chancellor for research, Economou simultaneously treated patients at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center early in the morning, worked as vice chancellor and taught part time, Ribas said.

Ribas added Economou made time to host biannual barbecues at his house for the lab workers and collaborators, despite his several workplace obligations.

“I think he’s the most honest, most vibrant person I know in science,” Ribas said. “He wants to generate data, not just publish a paper.”

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