Connecting researchers: database comes of age
An education professor directs a community band of active older musicians. A college administrator teaches tai chi to senior citizens as a way to promote strong bones and flexibility.
They might all join forces for a pioneering study, innovative lecture series, or other collaboration that could change the world.
First, they must find each other.
I always think thats one of the great pleasures and frustrations on campus, says Teresa Mangum, associate professor of English. You could have potentially wonderful colleagues to work with in another department, be here 10 years, and never have the opportunity to discover them.
Any tool to help find those people is so welcome.
Roll out the red carpet for the Universitys latest gadgetthe Center on Agings on-line Directory of Faculty Associates and Professional Staff in Aging.
The searchable database at www.uiowa.edu/~centrage/res2_dir_frm.htm identifies more than 270 faculty and staff from nine colleges and 62 departments across campus with interests and activities related to aging.
With a few keystrokes, users search records with specific keywordsmedication, exercise, arthritis, or dementia, to name a few.
Names and contact information pop up, followed by brief sketches of aging-related research, clinical activities, interests, mentoring involvement, and topics they are willing to discuss.
The directory has grown with time and technology. Its first version, published in 1996 in hard-copy form, featured 99 participants.
It has found its way to the Internet, where entries can be instantly written and updated by the participants themselves.
The general public also can access the directory easily. Thats crucial in a state that ranks fifth in the nation in percentage of residents age 65 and older (14.9 percent).
This year, for the first time, the Center on Aging searched for new directory participants by sending a mass e-mail to more than 6,000 people.
Efforts to compile a more comprehensive, wider-reaching list of people and projects go hand in hand with the Universitys strategic goal to facilitate interdisciplinary interaction in teaching, research, and service.
Aging isby its very naturea cross-disciplinary field. The aging process can be viewed as developmental across the lifespan with physiological, psychological, cultural, legal, political, and socioeconomical implications.
It isnt good enough just to survey the health sciences colleges to get this information. There are so many disciplines involved, says Lori Benz, program associate at the Center on Aging.
If youre working primarily in your own college, involved in your particular research, it could be a real eye-opener to see the number of people out there with complementary research.
For example, a database search for the word Alzheimers nets 34 records involving faculty and staff from five different collegesmedicine, public health, nursing, dentistry, and liberal arts and sciences.
Mangum used an earlier version of the directory to find candidates for an Obermann Fellowship summer seminar she directed in 1999 with Kathleen Buckwalter, professor of nursing and associate provost for health sciences.
Titled Late Life: Representations, Perceptions, Possibilities, the seminar explored ways interdisciplinary collaboration might lead to groundbreaking contributions in aging studies.
Journal of Aging and Identity, the first of two special issues of journals to come out of the seminar, is scheduled for release this summer.
The directory was a great help when putting together the seminar project, Mangum says, calling the seminar an exciting attempt to pull together the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, and come up with a fuller, richer understanding of late life.
One of the Obermann Fellows, Don Coffman, has been included on the directory for several years because of his work with the New Horizons Band.
Coffman, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, started the concert band for novice and returning musicians in 1995; the average age of band members is about 70.
As an Aging Studies Program faculty affiliate, he directs the band two times a week for 10 months a year and administers the program.
He is planning a three-month trip to the University of Tasmania in Launceston, Australia, this spring to study a community band program there.
Adding that experience to his directory entry when he returns could lead to contacts with researchers he might never have expected.
Judith H. W. Crossett, associate professor of clinical psychiatry, found several speakers for her weekly geriatric psychiatry topic seminar by searching the directory.
One of them is Lorraine Dorfman, professor of social work, who will talk March 4 about 2000 census demographics on aging and look at the biological, psychological, and social aspects of successful aging.
The one-hour talks are 11:30 a.m. Mondays during the academic year, in 6523 John Colloton Pavilion.
Weekly topics are listed on the Center on Agings searchable web calendar at www.uiowa.edu/~centrage, another popular on-line feature.
The directory is only one of several web-based resources we are implementing this spring, Benz says. Were looking for ways to capture and organize information in a way thats easier for everyone to use.
Weve created a starting point for collaboration on a huge range of issues and perspectives.
by Amy Schoon