U of R strategic plan released

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Plan sets research-teaching balance for students on campus

Martin Weaver
News Editor

Raman Paranjape knows what a pain it can be to take the bus on a frigid winter day in the Queen City. Not knowing whether the bus has already come, is running late, or will be on time can be agonizing.

“Anyone who is taking the bus without having lots of knowledge knows what a misery it can be,” he said.

That’s why he came up with a solution to fix that problem.

It’s solutions like Paranjape’s award winning “TransitLive” computer technology, that helps passengers track the location of city buses, that the University of Regina is banking on in the future.

“If we can do something to help, that’s why we started this,” said Paranjape.

U of R president and vice-chancellor Dr. Vianne Timmons unveiled a new strategic research plan on April 21 entitled, “Working Together Towards Common Goals: Serving Though Research.” The document outlines the U of R’s plan for research over the next five years, and tries to bridge the gap between research and improvement in the classroom.

“A misconception that some people have is that the research and teaching are two completely separate things and they don’t connect, but if you look at it from a discovery base perspective and also from a financial perspective, they’re intimately tied,” explained David Malloy, the U of R’s office of research director. “The better we are at research, the better we end up in teaching and the better it is for students, whether undergraduate or graduate, and for the community too.”

The more research and the higher the quality of research, the more tri-council funding the university is eligible for. It’s that money, from one of Canada’s major research granting agencies, that Malloy said is key.

“The more research we’re doing and the better research we’re doing, the more likely we are to get tri-council funding and that results in the university getting more money, “ he said. “That goes directly into research, students, and attracting new faculty. It goes into attracting new graduate students as well.”

The university received just fewer than 25 million in research funding last year, and Timmons is hoping that the new plan continues to build upon that. Since 2000, the U of R’s external research funding has doubled.

The research plan isn’t a last-minute essay that Timmons and the university threw together overnight. It’s the result of extensive research and planning. Internal and external stakeholders were consulted, and there were three town-hall meetings, four online questionnaires, and 90 interviews.

“Our faculty members and students are engaged in a wide spectrum of pure and applied research activities – from research in the social and hard sciences, to performance and community-based research. We should all take great pride in the research that is conducted at the University of Regina,” said Timmons in a release dated April 21. “Whether it’s in the laboratory, the library, or the classroom, together we are engaged in research that is relevant to the academy and meaningful and responsive to the needs of our communities.”

One of the major goals of the strategic research plan is to strengthen the ties between the university and the community, something that has the province excited about its potential to have a far-reaching impact.

“This new plan will help to support areas of research excellence at the University of Regina, which will result in innovation, employment and a stronger economy in our province,” said Rob Norris, minister of advanced education, in a statement dated April 21. “These research areas will have an impact on the local, regional and global communities.”

Paranjape’s transit research was a fitting example to showcase what the university is striving for. His “TransitLive” system won the two awards from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscinetists in Saskatchewan (APEGS).

He took home the 2010 exceptional engineering/geoscience project award and the 2011 award of innovation.

With all of the accolades, the online real-time bus-tracking system may be on the move.

“We have been talking to Saskatoon, we’ve talked to Moose Jaw, and we were up in Edmonton,” he said, adding that Edmonton transit officials seemed especially impressed and interested in the technology.

“We’ve talked to them and they are very impressed with what we’re doing. Certainly they have shown lots of interest. We actually believe that in a 5-7 year time frame, every transit authority will go to this technology.”

Paranjape also mentioned that he has also been in contact with the Calgary transit authorities.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ask Paranjape and that’s exactly what is likely to happen.

“There will be other people out there generating systems that will tell people where those buses are, because it’s really a negative to a transit system if you’re sitting waiting and not taking the bus in the cold,” he said.

Even though the technology is doing well, there is still a lot to be improved upon. The City of Regina is looking to enhance the usefulness of TransitLive. Paranjape illustrated the example of complaints from riders. When the city gets a complaint that a bus has taken a route or a detour that is not part of their scheduled route, they want to be able to verify the accuracy of the complaint by asking TransitLive to check where the bus was at the time the complaint was made.

“There’s been a lot of back and forth and (the city) has been very helpful with suggestions, ” he said. “We try to implement everything we can, because ultimately our goal is to take our research and move it to the point that it is useful for the City of Regina, and beyond Regina, if we can get interest outside Regina.”

The U of R’s research plan outlined three key themes: sustainable development, human development and knowledge, and creation and discovery. These are the areas the U of R is hoping to thrive in.

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