Rice University bioengineer Jane Grande-Allen has been named director of the Rice Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, effective July 1. The institute promotes cross-disciplinary research and education encompassing biology, chemistry and engineering.
Grande-Allen takes over for Rebecca Richards-Kortum, who remains the Malcolm Gillis University Professor, a professor of bioengineering, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Rice 360˚ Institute for Global Health.
“I am delighted to have Jane Grande-Allen as the new director of IBB,” said Yousif Shamoo, Rice’s vice provost for research, who announced the appointment. “Jane is a tremendous leader with exceptional vision and a knack for getting things done. I’d also like to thank Rebecca for her two years of distinguished service as director of the institute.”
Grande-Allen is the Isabel C. Cameron Professor of Bioengineering at Rice. Her Integrative Matrix Mechanics Lab at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative specializes in studying the composition and behavior of biological tissues with a particular interest in heart valves. Her new duties will provide a way to bring together researchers from Rice and other Texas Medical Center (TMC) institutions as well as enhance research and educational opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and high school students. Strengthening TMC relations and the biosciences is one of Rice’s strategic initiatives for the university’s second century.
Shamoo noted that Grande-Allen’s time in Rice’s Faculty Senate and as a former faculty adviser to President David Leebron gives her a wealth of experience in campuswide engagement. “Since the next century will be largely defined by advances in bio-related therapies, materials, manufacturing and innovation, IBB is poised to play an increasingly important role as the center for life sciences faculty and students across campus,” he said. “With Jane as the new director, IBB will expand to engage across campus to grow our research, training and outreach activities.”
“IBB has put a lot of focus on education, research and commercialization over the years,” Grande-Allen said of the institute that was formed in 1986. “I think the education components have been wildly successful with multiple endeavors. In particular, our high school programs have come along very nicely.” Those include the IBB Summer Academy and Girls STEM Initiative.
Grande-Allen hopes to increase summer support for Rice undergraduates, especially more fellowships. “I’d love to see the development of an Amgen Scholars-like program (for hands-on research experience) here,” she said.
She also intends to pursue more programs like the National Institutes of Health-funded MDACC/Rice Fellowship in Translational Cancer Nanotechnology that provides graduate students with an intensive two-year research experience and training in collaboration with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Grande-Allen noted IBB’s annual Hamill Innovation Awards, which supply seed money for new collaborative research projects led by Rice faculty members, fund only about 25 percent of the proposals submitted, and she would like to see more benefits for those who do not obtain a grant.
“I’m thinking about new ways to spur people to push those applications forward even if they didn’t get Hamill funding,” she said. “Sometimes the majority of the work is getting people to say, ‘Here’s an idea,’ and to put it down on paper. But another important component is getting feedback on those ideas. I want to set up a mechanism to get feedback to those people and see if we can help them submit their proposals to an external program. That would be an excellent return on investment.”
Along with improvements to the institute’s communications efforts and more scientific symposia, Grande-Allen said she hopes to build a stronger community of collaborators around IBB’s leadership.
Grande-Allen joined the Rice faculty in 2003. She has a B.A. in mathematics and biology from Transylvania University and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Washington.