Georgetown University announced physics professor Jeffrey Urbach as its new vice provost Nov. 3.
Urbach is currently an interdisciplinary chair in science alongside his role in the physics department, which he chaired for eight years.
Urbach served as founding director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Soft Matter Synthesis and Metrology (ISMSM) and as a founding co-director for the Program on Science in the Public Interest, a program designed to give students opportunities to work on science policy alongside government, industry and community leaders in Washington, D.C.
The role of vice provost for research, centered under the Office of the Provost, involves supporting sponsored research, leading the one million-dollar annual Internal Grants Program and leading efforts to improve research initiatives on campus.
Urbach said he welcomes the chance to help facilitate and expand the College of Arts and Sciences’ students’ and faculty’s research projects.
“I’m most excited about the opportunity to help our faculty reach their goals and ambitions for their research,” Urbach told The Hoya.
“We, throughout the university, made it a priority to try and get students involved in research from as early as possible in their time here. And part of this role is working with faculty and with the rest of the university in trying to make sure that that is happening as much as possible to identify new ways to get students involved. And if there are any barriers to try, knock those down,” Urbach added.
Physics professor Daniel Blair, a friend of Urbach, said Urbach has played a role in many of Georgetown’s biggest science initiatives, such as teaming up with other STEM faculty to write a grant for funding to build Regents Hall and founding the ISMSM in 2011 during the financial crisis.
“We were able to grow this thing essentially from the grassroots. And it’s been an amazing journey – it’s been really fun to have something that’s now a decade in, that has really established itself here,” Blair told The Hoya. “Georgetown is the model for how to have a successful institute that brings in lots of resources and people.”
Physics department Chair Paola Barbara said that she was hired when Urbach was chair in 2000 and benefited from his help in facilitating the renovations needed for her lab, as he easily understood what infrastructure requirements were needed for her research program. Barbara said Urbach is a capable problem solver who always helps his colleagues out.
“He is the person who gives you feedback that is thoughtful, and balanced and knowledgeable,” Barbara told The Hoya.
Blair said that Urbach’s leadership skills and knowledge of the departments within Georgetown will serve him well in the new role.
“One thing that Jeff has that always impressed me and all of our colleagues — he’s the sage of everyone here — is his deep and fundamental understanding of how Georgetown works. And that, to me, is something that’s always been very hard to know,” Blair said. “But Jeff can identify both the people, the right office, the right constituents, the right groups to get together. He’s a very good team builder, and he loves to build consensus.”
Barbara said that Urbach will be well-equipped for leading research because of his first-hand experience in research as a member of Georgetown’s faculty.
“Having been a faculty member, he understands what is needed in order to be successful in terms of funding, and also what is important for people who have grants from the outside to be successful in managing those brands,” Blair said.
“There is a lot about having all the administrative aspects helping you getting those grants go on smoothly, so you don’t have to spend time on the little details about the budget and things like that,” Blair added.
Blair said Urbach understands and values the liberal arts education Georgetown provides and is thus more prepared to work across a breadth of departments he is not as familiar with.
“He understands what their needs are, and he will listen to what their needs are, and he will be able to make hard decisions about resources and processes that aren’t necessarily just rooted in his experiences of science,” Blair said. “He will be able to see the bigger picture of the research needs of an institution rather than just within his own context.”
Urbach said one of his primary goals is increasing research connections between all of Georgetown’s campuses.
“Another area that I think is going to be an interesting challenge for us all is the downtown campus, which is building up. And will be, as I understand it, sort of the locus for some of our programs like the McCourt School of Public Policy and the Earth Commons, our environment and sustainability institute,” Urbach said. “And so making sure that while they’re not physically here on the hilltop, that what we do the things that we’re doing to support research, also support the work that’s going on on the downtown campus.”
“We do a lot of really spectacular research across the university, but I know there’s a lot of places where we feel like we could do more,” Urbach added.