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Global Impact Initiative making strides

May 15, 2019 

Elizabeth Munch
As a Global Impact Initiative faculty hire, Elizabeth Munch is working in MSU's emerging areas of research.

Elizabeth Munch among MSU faculty hires poised to make global impact 

Launched in 2015, the Global Impact Initiative set out to hire 100 faculty investigators in promising new areas of research. To date, 85 new faculty at all levels have been recruited to Michigan State University, and they are already making strides forward. 

“We had three goals for this initiative,” said Steve Hsu, senior vice president for Research and Innovation, “build on areas of strength to maintain our leadership position, augment existing initiatives, and move into emerging areas of research.” 

Rather than a top-down approach, the process involved a grassroots movement led by faculty. MSU research teams submitted proposals for cluster hires of new researchers in areas that could truly make an impact—areas identified as national and global priorities. The teams also had to explain how they would leverage the current strengths at MSU. 

Proposals were submitted by 120 groups across campus with wide-ranging ideas from strengthening autonomous vehicle security, to better understanding and preventing antibiotic resistance. Following extensive discussions with college leaders and department faculty, 35 initial proposals for cluster hires were selected, some of which included matching positions from the colleges. 

One theme that rose to the top was the clear need for more researchers in computation. Every field—from education to health to business—needs to better understand how to learn from and leverage the huge amounts of data being generated today. 

The new Department of Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering (CMSE) was formed from this idea and is now home to nearly 40 researchers, including Elizabeth Munch.

Munch is an assistant professor of CMSE, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Mathematics. 

CMSE is jointly administered by the College of Natural Science and the College of Engineering.

She categorizes herself as an interdisciplinary data science researcher focusing on topological data analysis, which provides methods to quantify the shape and structure of data. 

“I have been able to explore research directions I never thought possible without being encouraged to work in an interdisciplinary capacity,” she said. “In particular, I have started an active collaboration with another faculty member in horticulture and CMSE, Daniel Chitwood, exploring the quantification of plant morphology through X-Ray CT images. 

“I have also begun working on the interface of data science and quantum computing through a new collaboration with DWave Systems, Inc., as well as continuing my collaboration with engineers on time series analysis.” 

Munch also credits the new CMSE department for encouraging collaboration. 

“The CMSE department is incredibly collaborative and supportive with an excellent community environment. In this ‘department of outliers,' I have found a place where I truly belong,” she added.


Read more on other Global Impact Initiative faculty members at Research @MSU.