Research to solve problems
The University’s already robust research enterprise addresses problems and adds to our knowledge base, informing everything from how educators teach math to youngsters to how immigration policies affect communities. DU research enhances understanding of how chronic diseases behave, how political parties work, how the arts benefit the incarcerated, how domestic actions enhance or undermine national security goals, how protests and activists shape democracies.
“This university has created a research enterprise that is so impactful. Think about what we could do if we were to really combine forces and cross silos,” Haefner says. “How can the University help our faculty to solve the global challenges we face? There is no question that no single discipline has these answers and so interdisciplinary research is critical.”
Haefner pictures it this way: Professors in social work and law might partner on immigration studies, while faculty from psychology and the arts could examine the positive effects of creative endeavors on at-risk populations. Collaboration, Haefner says, “can result in new applications that benefit the welfare of all of us.”
In the coming months and years, Haefner hopes to direct resources into initiatives that share University expertise. That work began some months ago thanks to DU IMPACT 2025’s emphasis on “knowledge bridges.” These channel DU expertise beyond peer-reviewed journals and monographs toward efforts addressing specific problems. Already, a knowledge bridges incubator is helping multidisciplinary teams define and tackle three-year problem-based projects.
Haefner also envisions research partnerships with other universities and organizations or public entities seeking solutions to global and local problems. Think field-tested curricula for rural or disadvantaged school districts, therapies for chronic diseases or improved practices for child welfare workers contending with troubled families.
As Michele Hanna, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Social Work, sees it, Haefner’s research vision appeals to both current and prospective faculty. In job interviews, she says, applicants consistently ask about the University’s investment in collaborative research.
“It’s always a conversation with new faculty recruits. They always want to know, ‘Do we support it? Do we do it? Are there opportunities?’ A lot of our new faculty come in with innovative ideas that cross disciplines,” she says, noting that they want to address issues that require expertise from psychologists, educators, communicators and countless other specialists.
“As researchers, we recognize that these problems are not going to be solved in silos,” Hanna says.
Exactly, Haefner says. Community-engaged research that draws on expertise from all over campus will embody DU’s vision, serve its education mission and, in offering students the opportunity to contribute, improve DU’s value proposition.
“We can’t reach our full potential as a great university,” Haefner says, “without great research that is impactful in our world today.”