University research showcased for inaugural Congressional Staff Symposium

University research showcased for inaugural Congressional Staff Symposium
Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Key staff members from offices representing North Carolina’s federal Senate and House of Representatives visited UNC Charlotte for a Congressional Staff Symposium, “Shaping What’s Next at an Emerging Research University,” on April 25 to learn about the University’s rapidly rising research profile. While on campus, the group met with several researchers and students whose work represents areas of research excellence and aligns with the growing needs of industries that are making substantial economic impact across North Carolina and the nation.

“Research drives the economy — and UNC Charlotte strives to provide that engine through its responsiveness to the needs of industry and the government. We are committed to providing innovation, entrepreneurship, and talent to fuel the economic growth of the entire Southeast region,” said Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber. “Maintaining awareness of our research capabilities, regional impact, and the depth of our university-industry-government partnerships among those who represent our state in Congress is critical as we work to become a globally recognized top-tier emerging research institution.”

In addition to a campus wide tour, the day — hosted by the Office of Research and Economic Development and the Office of Constituent Relations — included stops to explore research in progress, in particular projects funded by federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy and the National Security Agency.

  • At the Albert & Freeman Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC), Michael Mazzola, EPIC’s executive director; Ehab Shoubaki, the smart grid’s laboratory manager; and Abdullah Al Mamun, Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering, outlined work taking place in the Duke Energy Smart Grid Laboratory related to mitigating the effects of mass power outages due to natural disasters and cybersecurity attacks.  
  • At EPIC’s High Bay Laboratory, the group heard from John Daniels, professor and chair of civil engineering; Timothy Kernicky, assistant professor of civil and environmental research; and Youngjin Park, EPIC’s laboratory manager, while observing the lab’s ability to perform full-scale testing of oversized components and systems, such as for bridges and multistory buildings, through numerical simulation and experimental testing. 
  • Cybersecurity experts Heather Lipford, professor of software and information systems and interim associate dean of the College of Computing and Informatics (CCI), and Bill Tolone, professor and associate dean of CCI, shared the accomplishments of the University’s two-decades-long leadership in cybersecurity research, particularly the outcomes of several federally funded projects. A highlight was the introduction of several undergraduate students who are recipients of National Science Foundation CyberCorps scholarships, and who will begin their careers engaged in national service with federal agencies. 
  • At the Bioinformatics Building, Cynthia Gibas and Jessica Schleuter, faculty members from bioinformatics and genomics, and Mariya Munir, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, shared the interdisciplinary team’s accomplishments related to COVID-19-related wastewater testing and sequencing — including those of students who are gaining valuable hands-on experience —  as part of the University’s award-winning pandemic response. The group also learned about the University’s continuing multidisciplinary efforts in pandemic preparedness and similar risks through CIPHER, the Center for Computational Intelligence to Predict Health and Environmental Risks.

“It was an honor to host Congressional staff at UNC Charlotte for the University's inaugural Research Symposium; my colleagues were extremely impressed with the depth and breadth of research being done here,” said Brett Keeter ‘99, district director, Congressman Patrick McHenry, and a member of UNC Charlotte’s Board of Trustees. “They left campus with a greater understanding of the economic impact of UNC Charlotte on the region. Additionally, the talented NSF Cybercorps students who discussed the value of this program, internship and research opportunities and how they are looking forward to serving in government upon graduation.”   

Symposium participants, in addition to Keeter, were Jordan Barnes ‘09, western field representative, and Luke Blanchat, deputy state director, Sen. Thom Tillis; Avery Bonifati ‘18, senior district liaison, Congresswoman Alma Adams; Kyle Bridges, district director, Congressman Ted Budd; Mike Fenley, field representative NW region, Sen. Richard Burr; Emmanuel Gbedee, special projects and outreach representative, Congressman G.K. Butterfield; Georgia Lozier, district director, Congressman Richard Hudson ‘96; Elizabeth Morra, vice president for federal relations, University of North Carolina System; and Caroline Winchester, field representative, Congressman Dan Bishop. 

Photo: Youngjin Park, EPIC laboratory manager, discusses the capabilities of the EPIC High Bay Laboratory during a demonstration to attendees of the inaugural Congressional Staff Symposium.