Building a Collaborative Culture

By Mike Seele

Building a collaborative culture involves retaining and recruiting faculty committed to, and excited by, the concept. That requires strong leadership that can guide and encourage faculty.

The College of Engineering appointed long-time faculty member Elise Morgan (ME, MSE, BME) to do just that as Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Development.

Morgan is well equipped for the job. She is the Maysarah K. Sukkar Professor of Engineering Design and Innovation and her primary appointment is in the Mechanical Engineering Department, but she also holds an appointment in Biomedical Engineering and in Materials Science & Engineering. An accomplished researcher who focuses on the interplay between mechanical forces and biological tissues, especially bone and cartilage, she is a member of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and director of the Center for Multiscale and Translational Mechanobiology.

Her understanding of the research process, particularly research that crosses disciplinary lines, gives her a solid understanding of the challenges faced by faculty, particularly early career faculty.

“My role is not just about encouraging collaboration, but celebrating it, too,” Morgan said. “Still embedded in academia is the idea that collaborating with others dilutes the mark of your scholarship on the field. New faculty think collaboration is something you do after you get tenure. My job is to disabuse them of that outdated notion.”

“It’s important that faculty have a balanced portfolio. They still need to demonstrate leadership in research, while also making meaningful, substantive contributions to collaborative efforts. My job is codifying those expectations and making sure they are communicated clearly and consistently at all levels of the College’s administration.”

Morgan believes that her role has the ability to foster a kind of collaborative, collegial culture that is rare among engineering schools.

“My hope is that early career faculty will see after a few years that what we have done here really advanced their ability to thrive. They will feel they are in a vibrant environment that presents new opportunities.”

“For mid-career and senior faculty, I hope that they will see that we have a college that they want to be part of because it’s such a vibrant, dynamic place that supports their research goals, and they want to stay here.”

“We are aiming to create fertile ground for these ideas and allow this culture to take root.”