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Cultural heritage to the microbiome: research at West Campus

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2017 - Autumn


When Scott A. Strobel, Ph.D., became vice president for West Campus Planning and Program Development in 2011, the 100-plus acres in West Haven and Orange had a work force of 84. Now, the population exceeds 1,500 across seven research institutes and the School of Nursing. At West Campus, the goal is to promote “collisional frequencies” that place researchers from different fields alongside one another. Strobel recently spoke with Yale Medicine about the vision for West Campus.

What is the vision for West Campus? We’re trying to set up an incubator to bring together people from different departments who would never bump into one another. Then we have them focus on a common set of problems. They work in a common lab space, so engineers may be next to geneticists who are next to evolutionary biologists.

Was that the plan when Yale bought West Campus in 2007? Usually when you have a new building, you’ve planned it for years, so the day it’s built you know exactly what’s there. One day in October 2007, we didn’t have the West Campus; then the next day we had 17 buildings and 1.5 million square feet of space. Now what are you going to do? The community started throwing out the biggest and brightest and best ideas. Michael Donoghue, who became the first vice president of West Campus, established the idea for interdisciplinary institutes with faculty from multiple departments.

How do those interactions work in practice? An interdisciplinary neighborhood will draw you in different directions than if you’re sitting next to somebody who’s in your field. You might say, “There’s someone around the corner who can help me, so I’m going to give this crazy idea a shot.”

How does the West Campus environment differ from being in New Haven? We benefit from being near New Haven and our local towns, but you don’t walk out of your lab into a city street. There’s one main place to eat. That might look like a weakness, but I think it’s a strength. When I started here I invested in the renovation of the conference center and a good environment to have lunch. When I go there I’ll see four, five, six faculty members, and sit down and catch up with them. People from all over Yale regularly come for retreats, conferences, and symposia. This is a way for the entirety of the university to benefit from West Campus.

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