Transportation joins McCormick to augment research

Amy Hamblin

In an effort to shift its focus to research, Northwestern’s Transportation Center — currently independent of any school — now will fall under the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, officials said Thursday.

The Transportation Center won’t be moving physically, but effective Jan. 1, 2005, it will be considered part of NU’s engineering school. The move will allow for more collaboration between the center and the Infrastructure Technology Institute, also part of McCormick.

The Infrastructure Technology Institute, which is government-subsidized, explores similar topics to the Transportation Center, and the extra collaboration will help broaden the Transportation Center’s research, officials said.

“The clear emphasis is on increasing the amount of research we are able to do,” said Robert Gallamore, director of the center. “There is more research funding for engineering and science applications than with policy issues.”

Gallamore said the center’s integration into McCormick is part of the university’s larger goal to promote interdisciplinary institutes. The Transportation Center must “update its mission,” in light of new trends and developments, he said.

Also part of this idea, Kellogg School of Management will continue to run the Transportation Center’s programming for business executives.

Founded in 1954, the center distinguishes itself from other transportation institutes by focusing on the study of issues that affect both the private and public sector. Traditionally, researchers only examine issues of public transportation, such as road safety and highway construction.

Many large corporations have partnerships with the center, including Quaker Oats, Union Pacific Railroad, Home Depot, Kraft, United Airlines and Morgan Stanley. Faculty members with the Transportation Center advise businesses on the best mode of transportation for their services.

More than 30 McCormick, Kellogg and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences professors are affiliated with the center. But some worry the change threatens the tradition of interdisciplinary work done at the center.

“I think it will potentially diminish the alumni and business community support for the center,” said Kellogg Prof. James Dana, a joint appointee for the center. “I think this is going to increase the quality of research but narrow the focus.”

But McCormick Prof. Pablo Durango-Cohen said the shift to his school only will increase the scope of research conducted in transportation.

“Many of the research aspects can build on the synergy that already exists,” said Cohen, a joint appointee. “For the university and Transportation Center this opens new opportunities.”

Durango-Cohen noted that the center will not be able to receive any additional funding from its new relationship with McCormick.

Gallamore said a search committee will begin to look for someone to fill the William A. Patterson Distinguished Chair, which has been vacant since 1999. The new chairperson will help oversee the new direction.

“Every organization, like every living organism, needs to renew itself in order to adapt to a new environment,” Gallamore said.

Reach Amy Hamblin at [email protected]