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Prof new director of 'superstar' institute - The Eagle: Texas A&M

Prof new director of 'superstar' institute

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Posted: Monday, June 25, 2012 12:00 am

A prominent Texas A&M faculty member has been named the founding director of a Texas A&M University institute that will bring the nation's and world's best scholars to Aggieland for short stays.

John Junkins, a distinguished aerospace engineering professor, will head the Texas Institute for Advanced Study, which has the aim of enhancing the university's intellectual climate as the scholars interact and work with students and faculty - and perhaps like the place so much they stay permanently.

Junkins has been serving as the interim director of the institute that is his brainchild since May 2011. The A&M System Board of Regents in December 2010 authorized the institute, which has the goal of attracting academic superstars such as Nobel laureates and members of the academies.

"That we're actually doing this in this season of tight budgets, with all of the frustrations and other things that have been in the wind over the last few years, it's really refreshing to see an unambiguously positive statement of institutional value," Junkins said Sunday.

The institute has secured start-up funds of $2 million a year for five years, but for the project to fully flourish, it will need an endowment of around $200 million, Junkins said.

A similar institute operated at the University of Virginia when Junkins had an academic appointment there in the '70s. It was effective in attracting talent to the university, but it floundered because it became a burden on the university's budget, Junkins said.

"The lesson I took away from that is it's extremely important to make the institute stand alone with an endowment," Junkins said. "So that's the key element of our plan here."

Now, Junkins said, he plans to focus on the success of the institute to show potential donors the value of investing in it.

Junkins eventually wants about 25 fellows to be appointed by the institute each year, but the first round, which is expected to be announced in the fall, should have six to eight people.

The fellows will hold yearlong appointments and were selected through a faculty-led nomination process that had representation across the university's colleges. There are two primary criteria, Junkins said: the quality of the individual, and how that person would connect with and benefit the university.

"We have a fairly deep talent pool of nominations," Junkins said. "We won't get the majority of these people. Most of them are gainfully employed already. This year, it looks like we're going to have a one-out-of-three success rate, which is pretty darn good."

Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin said in a release that Junkins has been invaluable as interim director in the institute's first year.

"Dr. Junkins is a natural fit to take the helm of an initiative so important to advancing Texas A&M's continued rise among the nation's top public research universities," he said.

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