By almost 23 years, the University of New Mexico (UNM) predates statehood: The school was founded in 1889 by an act of the Territory of New Mexico. By the mid-20th century, UNM was well established in the medical sciences; in 1994, the school opened its Health Sciences Center (HSC). Today, the HSC features a designated cancer center and 15 academic programs, including medicine, nursing and pharmacy. Research is a critical component of UNM, whether at the HSC or-given the school's proximity to Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories-in aerospace and physics.
UNM's provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, Chaouki Abdallah, PhD, has a background in electrical engineering; though his purview is the non-medical parts of the university (including the hard sciences), there are several areas where the hard sciences meet the medical sciences.
For instance, there is UNM's Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions, which counts health economics among its many areas of expertise. There's also the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy as well as Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) at the HSC, which seeks to treat disease in rural and underserved areas. But the biggest joint effort is between the HSC's Cancer Center and material scientists and chemical and nuclear engineers within the university.
"There is a lot of high-quality research that is leading into both companies and patents," Abdallah said.
UNM also has plans to start a school of public health; the school's president, Robert Frank, PhD, has a background in public health and started a similar school while he was the provost at Kent State University. But even before the ceremonial first shoveling of dirt, Abdallah explained the incredible amount of work that goes into opening a new school.
"For things like this, you need to have very specific requirements for accreditation," he said. "I was thinking we could just pull people from different areas to start it, then grow it. But you actually need to have five specific areas, you need to have at least five faculty members whose primary appointment is in public health. The accreditation requirements are also very specific on the name of the school as well as the academic programs within the school."
Abdallah said concern about funding from the National Institutes of Health is a major reason why UNM is a Research!America member.
"We are concerned like everybody else about the drop in federal funds. We have a lot of NIH funds on both sides of campus," Abdallah said. "We have many R01 [grants], and we really need to make sure that they're maintained and increased because many of our researchers do depend on them."