Nebraska's Combined Goal: Become an International Research Model
Randy York's N-Sider
If sharing experiences, asking questions, healthy debate, constant communication, consistent deliberation, trusting intuition and distributing power are keys to successful collaboration, then Thursday’s first formal retreat bringing Nebraska Athletics together with UNL Research should build sturdy anchors for an interdependent partnership designed to become a game-changing international model for research.
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne and Prem Paul, UNL’s vice chancellor for Research & Economic Development, will address at least 100 participants in Thursday’s six-hour retreat in West Memorial Stadium, directly across from an East Stadium construction project that will include unprecedented research facilities.
UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman will describe the vision behind the unique partnership and explain how UNL faculty and others will have the opportunity to become involved. Building Research Collaborations is the theme of this retreat, and Nebraska Athletics and UNL Research are the team. Both anchor partners are well enough along in their emerging collaboration to invite other partners to see what’s down the road.
Key faculty and Athletic Department representatives will discuss how the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab will be finished and why it will look like a typical training facility replete with multiple surfaces that will accommodate sport-specific activities. By next fall, the Performance Lab will include everything from a basketball floor and goal to a volleyball court and net and a strength training platform.
“This is kind of a big deal because one of the most important ideas behind expanding the East Stadium was an opportunity for our Athletic Department to make a significant contribution to the University of Nebraska’s academic mission,” Osborne said. “Our mission is to aid in recruiting by showing recruits and their parents that we’re doing everything we can to make their experience at Nebraska safer and more productive.”
Nebraska Performance Lab the Linchpin
The north half of the East Stadium addition will house the Performance Lab, which will enable research teams from multiple departments to address topics that relate to performance and health, technology, nutrition, psychology and learning. Head injuries and brain-related studies will be discussed at the retreat, and Dennis Molfese will explain how Nebraska intends to address this national concern under his leadership.
An internationally recognized expert with four decades of experience in brain studies and development, Molfese will head the proposed Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, a broadly based interdisciplinary research center that has three goals. The top goal relates directly to the work his team will study in the expanded East Stadium. Molfese wants to “establish an international reputation as a pioneering, premier, world-class, interdisciplinary center that investigates the interface between social, biological, behavioral, engineering and neurological issues.” The other two goals relate to the applications of state-of-the-art imaging equipment and becoming a “trans-disciplinary hub” for cutting-edge research and innovative graduate education.
The CB3 Center will be housed in a three-story, 25,000 square-foot building inside the East Stadium, and research will range from detailed studies of social attitudes to the neurological basis of human decision-making. Molfese’s team will pursue worldwide knowledge in the study of the remediation of brain concussions among athletes. The Nebraska-based study will be done in collaboration with other institutions, including prominent Big Ten Conference and Ivy League schools..
Other areas of emphasis on Thursday’s agenda include cardiovascular fitness, advanced equipment, software development and biomarker analysis, a pivotal area that will be addressed by the retreat’s keynote speaker, Douglas Granger, a nationally renowned expert in biomarker research. Granger is director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research at Johns Hopkins University. He also holds appointments at the School of Medicine, School of Nursing and Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Osborne: Collaboration Bridge between the Two
“The collaboration process will serve as a bridge between athletics and academics,” Osborne said, pointing out how the research center will use cutting-edge imaging technology to better understand the biological underpinnings of behavior and performance.
Academic programs throughout the University also will benefit from MRI research and athletic research that involve such related activities as comprehensive physicals, motion capture and analysis, saliva studies, resistance training, force plate (balance) studies, functional screening analysis, VO2 (maximum oxygen) tests, cardiac stress tests, echocardiograms, body composition tests, biomechanics (the application of physics in sports), sleep studies, concussion assessment tools, vision training, psychological evaluations and supplements research.
“It’s important to look at a broad range of research opportunities because there are multiple avenues to secure grants, public research and provide graduate and undergraduate assistantships,” Osborne said. “Our goal is to advance the general welfare of our country and particularly our student-athletes. Prevention of concussions, cardiovascular events, improper nutrition practices and unsafe equipment will have a national and international impact and will set this University and this Athletic Department apart in terms of research and innovation. This will be a unique facility and not duplicated anywhere else.”
Osborne points out that the athletic research facility is not an extension of such areas as Nutrition, Strength and Conditioning or Athletic Medicine. “The facility will stand alone and separate from the Athletic Department, even though there will be a strong affiliation,” he said.
Participation at Discretion of Coaches, Athletes
“This new structure will not be an office space for those not engaged in active, approved research,” Osborne said, adding that “no student-athlete and no sport will be required to participate in research studies. Participation will be at the discretion of each coach and each athlete.”
The athletic research area “will be revenue neutral,” Osborne said. “Our goal is to generate enough income through space rental and grants to meet our operating expenses. It will not be a profit center.”
Osborne said the implementation of policy “will evolve and change over time, but the mission will remain constant.”
A one-hour retreat discussion of the Athletic Performance Lab will include subject matter experts Steven Krueger, a cardiologist at Lincoln’s Bryan LGH Heart Institute and Steve Kiene, the managing principal of Nebraska Global Investment. Nebraska Global is the Lincoln-based software development company that partnered with NU Athletics to deliver EliteForm, a state-of-the-art strength and conditioning product that was unveiled nationwide last spring.
Perlman Will Share Vision of Unique Partnership
During a 75-minute working luncheon, Perlman will share his vision of the unique partnership between UNL academics and Nebraska Athletics
Deb Hamernik, interim associate vice chancellor for Research, will moderate an eight-person panel on UNL’s research strengths and needs. Panelists include Julie Honaker, Tim Carr, Tim Gay, Debra Hope, Namas Chandra, Fred Luthans, Scott Stoltenberg and Mario Scalora.
Paul will finish the day with a one-hour discussion of key observations and next steps with six panelists – Granger, David Hansen, Molfese, Marjorie Kostelnik and two members of Nebraska’s Athletic staff – Brandon Rigoni and Doak Ostergard.
According to Paul, the primary purpose of the unique partnership is to “create a center for excellence in health and performance research that provides a unique link between our prestigious academic and athletics programs and private partners with a shared interest in improving the health and welfare of citizens, including our student-athletes.”
Bottom Line: There is No Place Like Nebraska
At countless colleges, rifts develop regarding the priorities of academics and athletics, and Paul appreciates Osborne’s emphasis on academics as well as his willingness to partner with the academic side of Nebraska, where he earned a doctorate in Educational Psychology.
Communication and collaboration are crucial to improve the quality of health and performance research. "We are eager to explore collaborations with faculty, coaches, athletes and the community," Paul said, "so we can research and improve best practices and put Nebraska on the leading edge by using the latest science and technology.”
Osborne is a strong believer in the principle that says the best way to predict the future is to invent it, and, in a nutshell, that’s what the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab will be – an invention that gives a Big Ten university in the heart of America the chance to compete at the highest level in 23 intercollegiate sports. Who else in the world will have 50,000 square feet of research space inside a football stadium with a corridor that will connect athletic performance with academic rigor?
Every Big Red fan needs to understand that the expanded East Stadium may be highly geared to football, but it will benefit every student-athlete that Nebraska chooses to recruit.
A Hall-of-Fame coach’s vision stretches well beyond the sport that made him famous, and the realization of this unique interdependent partnership between academics, athletics and private enterprise should be applauded and celebrated with the same enthusiasm as a comeback win over Ohio State.
Undying Support of Fans Deserves Kudos
Fifty straight years of Nebraska football sellouts go beyond an ongoing NCAA record that probably never will be broken. And make no mistake: The undying loyalty of Big Red football fans laid the foundation for this international model of research.
When the East Stadium’s new tenants move into their home in 2013, fans will realize how the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab influences recruiting and how such a move aligns perfectly with the Athletic Department’s over-arching goal – Success in Academics ... Success in Athletics ... Success in Life.
The public unveiling of the Performance Lab next fall – and all the research that surrounds it – will deserve the ultimate kudo that only a Cornhusker can understand ... There is No Place like Nebraska!
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Voices from Husker Nation
Your article on the University of Nebraska's "Building Research Collaborations" Retreat is very interesting. What the faculty and staff at the University of Nebraska, in collaboration with the leadership of Tom Osborne and Harvey Perlman, are doing is wonderful. It should make all Nebraskans and N.U. Alumni extremely proud. I cannot wait to discover what happens in the bright future of the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab. Thanks for your good reporting and congratulations to everyone involved. Randy Milhoan, Vail, Colorado