UMBC’s Don Engel selected for inaugural cohort of APLU Research Leader Fellows

Don Engel, UMBC’s assistant vice president for research, has been selected as one of just eight participants nationwide in the new Research Leader Fellows program sponsored by the Council on Research within the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). The 18-month program focuses on helping emerging research leaders to develop knowledge and skills in new areas related to supporting university research today and into the future. Participants attend conferences, participate in facilitated meetings as a group, and receive direct mentorship from experienced higher education research leaders.

“I think the most valuable thing about this program will be that it will expose me to things that we can do that haven’t been on our horizon, because we haven’t yet thought to look creatively in those directions,” says Engel.

In his fellowship proposal, Engel outlined plans for two projects in which he’s already deeply invested. First, Engel is working with the UMBC community to develop makerspaces on campus. While many makerspaces in academic settings create opportunities for students to “learn about tech through tinkering,” Engel says, he would also like to see these spaces “conceived as…tools to advance faculty-led research.” That research could be in any field that “depends on rapid fabrication and prototyping,” such as robotics, or into fabrication techniques themselves, he explains.

Don Engel (third from right) with the inaugural cohort of APLU Research Leader Fellows. Photo by Sarah Rovito.

During the fellowship, Engel will attend the International Symposium of Academic Makerspaces at Case Western Reserve University. Case Western is the site of the world’s largest academic makerspace, and Engel intends to take advantage of the symposium’s location to learn how the university developed and now manages the facility. Engel will also travel to the 2018 World Maker Faire in California. Both trips, along with conversations with other academic institutions that house makerspaces, will inform ideas about best practices for building impactful, sustainable makerspaces at UMBC that serve a wide range of people across the university.

Engel also intends to expand his current work with the National Cybersecurity FFRDC (Federally Funded Research and Development Center) during the fellowship. UMBC is a founding partner of the center with the MITRE Corporation and the University of Maryland, College Park. “All parties have been navigating uncharted territory in determining how to leverage each other’s strengths and resources toward the critical cybersecurity of our national commercial sector,” Engel says, and one of his goals is to explore “what the university system can do to better enhance academic engagement in the FFRDC.”

His trip to California will facilitate visits with University of California schools—especially useful because they operate similarly to the University System of Maryland and already sustain robust relationships with several national laboratories, a subset of FFRDCs. In the case of both makerspaces and the FFRDC, Engel says, “My time as a fellow will allow me to leverage immediate questions facing UMBC as an opportunity to deeply explore what other institutions have done in the face of similar opportunities.”

Broadly, Engel hopes to gain skills that will serve him and UMBC long into the future. He sees the Research Leader Fellows program as an opportunity to learn more about the expansive, cross-disciplinary areas that research leaders are expected to supervise, from research compliance to extramural partnerships. He also anticipates the program will help him, and his fellow participants, develop skills to facilitate campus-wide conversations on research issues across disciplines.

“I’m very interested in finding ways to use this as an opportunity to take on new challenges and to think of ways to discover new partnerships or other sorts of resources that will allow us to do things we haven’t done before,” he says. “I want to get people excited to work together on interesting, ambitious projects that will advance human knowledge and education, at UMBC and in collaboration with other universities.”

Image: Don Engel speaks at a UMBC research event. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.