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UA appoints top research officer

Ohio State’s Sui to start job at Fayetteville campus Oct. 1 by Jaime Adame | August 1, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Daniel Sui

FAYETTEVILLE -- Daniel Sui, a division director at the National Science Foundation and professor in Ohio State University's Department of Geography, has been named the top research officer at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Sui, 53, will begin Oct. 1 as vice chancellor for research and innovation, working with UA faculty members and others outside the university to try to boost research, UA announced Tuesday.

State leaders have spoken about research as a way to help the economy. In the most recent National Science Foundation ranking of research spending, UA ranked highest out of all Arkansas universities and 130th nationally with about $145 million in spending, a total that included about $40.6 million from federal sources, such as competitive grants supporting research projects.

Sui takes over for Jim Rankin, who left to become president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Sui will earn $300,000 yearly, Camilla Shumaker, UA's director of science and research communications, said in an email.

Rankin earned $261,944, UA has said.

Oversight responsibilities for Sui will include undergraduate research, planning that involves research facilities, and the University of Arkansas Press, according to UA.

He was among three finalists announced by the university, along with Lynne Parker and Robert Nobles II, both at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Parker withdrew from consideration last month.

Provost Jim Coleman made the hiring decision in consultation with Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, Shumaker said. A search committee of mostly faculty members helped review candidates, and UA also agreed to pay $100,000 in professional fees to search firm Greenwood/Asher & Associates Inc., a total not including "indirect expenses" specified to be 12 percent of professional fees, according to contract documents released under the state's public disclosure law.

In a statement, Coleman highlighted Sui's "key administrative leadership roles" and called him "an internationally renowned researcher" in the field of geographic information science.

Sui, in a statement released by UA, referred to a strategic plan developed under Steinmetz, who worked at Ohio State from 2009 until becoming UA's top administrator in January 2016.

"I am thrilled to join the campus leadership team and work with all the stakeholders to implement the strategic plan by strengthening the U of A's signature research areas while also significantly expanding the university's research into many new uncharted territories," Sui said.

The National Science Foundation in 2016 appointed Sui as its division director for social and economic sciences within its Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences.

He worked at that job while continuing as a faculty member at Ohio State University, which he joined in 2009. Before that, he worked as a faculty member and an administrator at Texas A&M University.

Sui earned earned degrees in geography as well as remote sensing and geographic information systems from Peking University in China, and a doctorate in geography from the University of Georgia.

Harvey Miller, director of Ohio State University's Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, called Sui "one of the greatest visionaries" in the field of geographic information science. Sui previously served as director for the center.

Miller said geographic information science involves "basically taking all the data we used to put on paper maps" and using computer technology to analyze and visualize the information.

Sui was among the first scientists to recognize the importance of geographic location information in social media, Miller said. The data can be used for research and also viewed as a method of communication, Miller said.

"I think he'll be very good at this job because he is a visionary, and he does see things coming way in advance of anyone else," Miller said.

Sui in an email said he was unavailable for an interview Tuesday because of job duties. In a public presentation last month, Sui said data analytics "could be a possible signature area" of UA research and that he is "very optimistic" about building research at the university.

But he also listed challenges seen nationally, such as a lack of money to pay for research endeavors.

"The continuous decline of public support for research at both the federal and state level is really disturbing in my opinion, so everybody is facing that new reality," Sui said.

Comments evaluating Sui after his presentation using an anonymous feedback form were released under the state's public disclosure law.

The comments presented a mixed view of Sui.

"Embraces a team perspective and has strong leadership skills. His leadership and abilities represent what is needed to move this important work in our state," said one comment.

Another said "not convinced he possesses the leadership skills needed to run the operations" of the office.

In 2011, UA announced that the institution had for the first time been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as having "very high" levels of research activity, the top designation for a university.

Last year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke about research and the economy at the announcement of five researchers chosen by the Arkansas Research Alliance to each receive $75,000 grants. The public-private partnership works to recruit researchers to the state.

"If you want to keep a strong economy for the future, you better say ahead of the curve," Hutchinson said, describing how technology companies can "spin off" from research efforts. He spoke about the importance of such companies.

"We cannot recruit these, we cannot sustain these without strong research programs at our institutions of higher education," Hutchinson said.

Metro on 08/01/2018

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