March 19, 2007

Initiative focuses on Lower Mississippi Delta issues

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Jane Adams is looking for a few good researchers —more if she can get them — to create the kind of problem-solving force not seen since the War on Poverty back in the '60s.

No matter what your department, if your interests involve the poor, rural America, public health or the environment, Adams, an anthropologist, wants you to take part in two symposia scheduled for this month and next.

The first, which runs from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, in the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center conference room, features an overview of research on health and related fields occurring on all SIU campuses.

The second, set for 1 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, in the Student Health Center auditorium, focuses on the environment and natural resources.

"These symposia are basically in-house for SIU faculty and staff within the system — the medical school, Edwardsville, Carbondale — and aim to show the range of work being done and the kinds of opportunities available for interdisciplinary research," Adams said.

The ultimate goal for both: to forge an institute that would focus on solving some of the economic, social and environmental problems threatening the Lower Mississippi Delta Region, a strip of counties and parishes following the Mississippi River through Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi. Missouri and Tennessee.

"We're especially hoping that everybody who is working in the region will bring posters or displays (to the symposia)," she said.

As Adams sees it, this institute would function like a sort of magnetic core, attracting other researchers, agency professionals, and folks who live in the region. It would also pull in some money.

"Federal agencies charged with funding university research recognize the inadequacy of narrowly focused disciplinary research," she wrote in a backgrounder for what she's calling the Delta Institute.

"Through a variety of initiatives these funding agencies are promoting interdisciplinary research. Some are also promoting applied research on pressing issues."

If the Delta Institute gets off the ground, Adams sees winners all around.

"We have junior faculty who are churning with ideas but no viable ways to get major grant support because the process takes so long," she said.

"Being part of a team will allow them to work with big picture/big project science.

"One of the big goals of the institute as a whole is to cross the divide that has historically grown up between people who are doing research with a capital R and people who are doing research that has applications. Joining the two enriches not only the academic community but also the outside community enormously."