UofSC’s Excellence Initiative launches 8 high-impact projects

The University of South Carolina is known for research that not only pushes the boundaries of scientific discovery, but also answers important questions that help people lead better lives.

That’s the goal of eight new research and outreach projects announced Wednesday that explore everything from delivering better care to patients to improving the state’s education system.

The projects are part of the Excellence Initiative, an ongoing annual competitive grant program launched by the Board of Trustees last year to identify and fund proposals with the potential to be transformative and have a lasting impact on the university. This year's awards total nearly $11 million in one-time start-up funds and recurring support.

The depth and breadth of these projects reflect extremely well on our faculty members and their commitment to work that makes an appreciable difference in the world.

Stephen Cutler, dean of the College of Pharmacy


The selection process included an advisory committee of 10 faculty members and university officials who made recommendations to Provost Joan Gabel and President Harris Pastides.

“Selecting just a handful of projects out of the large pool of proposals we received was extremely challenging and incredibly inspiring,” said Stephen Cutler, dean of the College of Pharmacy. “The depth and breadth of these projects reflect extremely well on our faculty members and their commitment to work that makes an appreciable difference in the world.” Cutler added “the Excellence Initiative Committee, which was representative of the university, was very thorough, strategic, and dedicated to ensuring that proposals would be transformative to the University of South Carolina.  They were servant leaders in their commitment to this Initiative.”

The newly funded proposals this year include:

Cardiovascular Translational Research Center

Frank Spinale, associate dean for research and graduate education at the School of Medicine

This initiative will advance new strategies in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment for cardiovascular diseases – a leading cause of death and disability in South Carolina, the nation and in developing countries across the globe. The center will build upon existing strengths and establish unique collaborations across multiple campus disciplines as well as clinical partners, resulting in novel approaches to combat cardiovascular disease, which is reaching near epidemic proportions in South Carolina.  This center will work closely with the Big Data Center and the Artificial Intelligence Center.

Big Data Health Sciences Center

Xiaoming Li, Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health

The center will accelerate the university’s utilization of “big data” and will serve as a campus-wide, interdisciplinary enterprise to conduct cutting-edge, data-driven health research and discovery. It also will offer professional development opportunities, academic training, and research services to industry partners. This center will create synergy with the Artificial Intelligence, Autism, Neuroimaging and Cardiovascular Translational Centers that are part of the Excellence Initiative.

Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders Center

Jane Roberts, Department of Psychology and Jeff Twiss, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences

This initiative will bolster the university’s expertise in autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, making strategic faculty hires and encouraging multi-disciplinary research projects that benefit patients, families and caregivers alike. This center will engage in research with the artificial intelligence, big data, and neuroimaging programs of the Excellence Initiative. 

Aging Brain Cohort

Julius Fridriksson, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the Arnold School of Public Health

This center will work closely with the Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders Center and Artificial Intelligence Center to explore the myriad factors that influence brain health as people age, including social, genetic and cognitive factors.  The center will provide critical data to other researchers across campus studying aging, stroke, dementia and more. 

Leadership in Applications of Artificial Intelligence

Hossein Haj-Hariri, College of Engineering and Computing

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing how we work and interact with one another. This new center will explore ways in which data can be transformed to create personalized AI solutions and products. It also will work with researchers across campus to identify how AI can be applied in unique ways and spur entrepreneurial activities.  This center will work with the Big Data Center, Cardiovascular Translational Center, Neuroimaging Center, and the Autism Center to catalyze convergent multidisciplinary activities at the UofSC.

Accelerator for Learning and Leadership for South Carolina

Jon Pedersen, College of Education

The Accelerator will marshal resources from the university and beyond to address the serious social and economic challenges facing South Carolina’s highest-needs children, schools and communities. The goal is to create innovative solutions in a range of areas including community-based schooling, teacher retention and leadership development. Through this initiative, the UofSC will partner with the State Legislature to strengthen K-12 education in South Carolina.

Honors College Equity Initiative

Steve Lynn, South Carolina Honors College

This initiative will increase our diversity and quality by recruiting extraordinary students from the African Leadership Academy (ALA), a remarkable high school that draws students from 46 African countries, and has the audacious goal of transforming the world by educating Africa's next generation of leaders.  This initiative will allow us to join Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Duke, Stanford, Berkeley, and other elite schools already recruiting these students and developing greater diversity on their campuses. 

The Globe at UofSC: A National Partnership for the Arts

Robert Richmond, Department of Theatre and Dance, College of Arts and Sciences

The initiative also involves the School of Music and will serve as a symbol of new innovation promoting transformative teaching, research, creative activities, and community engagement. Situated on the Columbia Campus, each May the Globe at UofSC will provide the unique experience to watch an accessible and participatory performances as a “groundling.” The sleek, modern design will also be housed in the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., for the summer of 2020 as the centerpiece of their exhibition and serve as the performance venue for the Folger Shakespeare Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Globe at UofSC portability will enhance cross-cultural exchange and provide students with training experiences and connections to artists worldwide.