Swanson recruited by National Science Foundation for prestigious rotational post

Dr. JD Swanson, associate professor in the Department of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, has been hired by the National Science Foundation for a two-year rotational appointment as a program director in the independent federal agency’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which is housed in the Office of Integrative Activities.

In his new position, Swanson joins a diverse team of scientists and engineers in charge of administering all aspects of major EPSCoR NSF initiatives, particularly the Research Infrastructure Improvement awards. His team will also work with other NSF directives like the Integrative NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education, Science and Technology Centers, Major Research Instrumentation and Advanced Research Infrastructure program.

“It’s a $7 billion agency with 2,500 people working there at the top of their games,” Swanson said. “They all want to move cutting edge science forward and make U.S. science phenomenal. And this is so incredibly important to the nation’s economy.”

Working with a roughly $160 million slice of that budget, Swanson will solicit and administer the merit review process on research and education proposals, make funding recommendations and administer large infrastructure awards and professional internships for aspiring scientists and engineers. His work will dissect across every area of science in NSF’s purview and help build infrastructure from preschool to K-12, undergraduate to graduate, and post-doctoral to faculty education. He will help to build collaborations and administer the purchase of physical large scale equipment across U.S. jurisdictions that have historically received less funding from the agency. Swanson will mentor the evolution of programs, facilitate collaboration with other federal agencies and advance all NSF activities.

“I get to see the very best science in the world and see how the very best people in the world do it,” Swanson said. “I’m in a position to assess it and help build infrastructure for jurisdictions that need it. Our mission is not just to fund the science but to build infrastructure. We commend what states are doing well, point out what they need help with and hold them to it. That helps them produce something amazing.”

Swanson’s association with NSF dates back to his tenure in the biology department at the University of Central Arkansas, where he collaborated with then-EPSCoR program officer Dr. Uma Venkateswaren. This past summer, Venkateswaran, who now serves as section head for EPSCoR, and Dr. Denise Barnes, the outgoing section head, reached out to Swanson about the program director opportunity and ultimately hired him.

Through the Intergovernmental Personnel Assignment Act, Swanson retains his employment as a Salve Regina faculty member during his two-year federal appointment, and the NSF provides a direct grant to the University to cover his salary and benefits while he is away, which frees up his regular salary to hire faculty to teach at Salve during his NSF work. The department has bolstered its teaching ranks with the hiring of two visiting assistant professors, Dr. Anna Radovic and Dr. Joseph Schrader.

“I was able to leave the department in a good place for the two years that I’m away,” Swanson said. “And now it’s an opportunity for Salve to leverage my experience and make use of that when I come back.” He’s already strategizing on ways this NSF experience will directly benefit Salve students in both his classroom lectures and labs.

“I am immediately hooked into the cutting edge of where the science is going,” he said. “This experience will help me as I’m teaching students and designing my courses to be able to narrow them in smarter ways. We can then move into the idea of how we are thinking about the University’s strategic goals.”

Swanson said one of the best aspects of his NSF job is the agency’s support of his current research and continued interaction with his students. Through an Independent Research and Development grant agreement, NSF is funding up to 50 travel days for Swanson from NSF headquarters to Salve Regina, to ensure there is no interruption in the work he’s already doing on campus. Swanson conducts weekly lab meetings with Salve students via Skype, and Radovic fosters this continuity during the times Swanson is in D.C.

“I’m still engaged with Salve students, which is huge,” Swanson said. “It all comes back to our customer. I have no misconception; my paycheck comes from those students. Everything that we, as faculty, do should be associated with what benefits our students.”

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