New VP of research and economic development emphasizes importance of involving students

Russell Mumper is the new vice president for research and economic development at the University, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Until then, John Higginbotham, the university’s associate vice president for research and economic development, will serve as interim.

In this position, Mumper will help lead the University’s research and economic development, which is one of the focuses of the University’s five-year strategic plan that was announced on Aug. 17, 2016.

When Mumper learned about the vice president for research and economic development position at the University, he applied with great interest.

“I had been exploring a couple of vice president for research positions and saw that The University of Alabama was hiring,” Mumper said.

Over a span of 27 years, Mumper has worked as a researcher, an institute and center director, a teacher, a faculty member and an entrepreneur.

Senior vice provost for business operations at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Rick Wernoski, said Mumper’s experience covers all of the requirements needed for the vice president for research and economic development position.

“As you think about building up a research and economic development enterprise, it takes a thorough understanding of all those areas, and Russ has it all,” Wernoski said.

Before the University of Georgia, where he started working in 2014, Mumper worked at UNC and the University of Kentucky before that. He spent eight years in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries before starting his academic career at the University of Kentucky.

Wernoski and Mumper met when Wernoski moved to UNC in August 2010. Mumper was already at the school of pharmacy when Wernoski joined.

The two worked together until Mumper left for the University of Georgia in 2014. Wernoski said Mumper’s experience will help to bring world-class faculty to the University.

One of Mumper’s main focuses is an emphasis on undergraduate and graduate level research.

“The opportunity that The University of Alabama has is to continue to recruit world-class faculty that has been involved in research and scholarly endeavors so that they could do important work at the University but involve students, both undergraduates and graduates, in that scholarly endeavor,” Mumper said.

Andrew Ridenour, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, has been conducting research with Edward Sazonov, an electrical engineering professor at the University, since Summer 2018.

“Prior to seeing the opportunity, I had gotten interested in microcontrollers through my curriculum and some things I was doing for my club, and I took interest and notice of that,” Ridenour said.

Ridenour is the electrical captain of the SAE Baja team which builds and races off-road buggies to compete against schools around the world. The team attends an SAE competition each year.

Ridenour said getting involved with research during his undergraduate college career has increased his confidence in his field of study.

“Undergraduate research opportunities make The University of Alabama attractive to many students,” Sazonov said. “Being able to work on the cutting edge of technology, of science, is very important, so it’s a very unique experience to anyone involved in it.”

Sazonov said he typically provides guidance on the direction of the research and practical interpretation of the projects for undergraduate research.

“We have a lot of excellent students who are very invested in performing this kind of work because it gives them skills outside of the class,” Sazonov said.

Sazonov said these practical skills employed during undergraduate research will be useful when students apply for jobs or decide to apply for graduate school.

Ridenour said students that are interested in participating in undergraduate research should take the plunge.

“Not only does undergrad research allow you to have some insight into professional research, but it also allows you to have one-on-one experience with someone who is well-versed in a particular field of interest that you would never really get in the classroom,” Ridenour said. “Your academic curriculum can’t prepare really you for actual hands-on experience with a project, a design or an idea because the tangible aspect of the research is probably the most valuable.”

For Mumper, creating opportunities was the most important thing that drove him to explore his new position.

“The thing that’s really most attractive to me about this position is the opportunity that we have at The University of Alabama to propel the research enterprise but at the same time involves as many undergraduate students in that mission,” Mumper said. “That will create learning opportunities for those students that are differentiating and will prepare them for future opportunities and future careers.”

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