Holly Wichman said universities have an obligation to contribute solutions to problems the world faces during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Integrated Research and Innovation Center (IRIC).
“Most of the problems are not within the purview of one discipline or one way of thinking and this building is about bringing individuals together and building teams to solve these problems,” Wichman said. “So innovation comes from having a mixing pot of ideas, from having a breadth of expertise and having a diversity of people.”
Wichman is a university distinguished professor and has been researching biology at the University of Idaho for the last 30 years. She sat on the faculty adviser committee for the center, but said she never dreamed she’d be one of the first occupants of the building. Her research project was being hosted in the Mines Building since 2015, but has now moved into the research center.
“I am amazed at how much difference this building made,” Wichman said. “So as soon as we moved in here, people’s energy level came up and we’ve spent a lot of time where we’re working in our ‘collaboratorium,’ but then we break into small groups and there are all sorts of wonderful places to sit and work. It’s easy to do teamwork in this building.”
She said she asked a post-doctoral student what he thought of the building now that they work there.
“He didn’t talk about how beautiful the building is, even though it is beautiful, and he didn’t talk about all the wonderful facilities, even though they are wonderful,” Wichman said. “What he said is, ‘I already met people I should have known a long time ago.’”
The center is a people-focused building, and UI President Chuck Staben said every member of the university should see it as an investment in their future.
“The world is moving toward more interdisciplinary research and more interaction to solve those complex problems,” Staben said. “This building is a symbol for the university, that we are the on the leading edge of that movement.”
At the ceremony, Staben dedicated a prominent ground-floor conference room to UI alumnus and major donor, Dayel Meshri, who was in attendance. Staben told Meshri’s story of being born in British India before moving to a refugee camp when the country split. In 1963, Meshri got a scholarship at UI and studied fluorine chemistry before graduating and starting his own company.
Meshri said UI played an important role in his life and he’d like to do anything he can to help it. He said he loves the university and is happy to be back home for the event.
“This is a fantastic place. This means a lot and I am very fortunate that I could contribute a little bit and have this conference room dedicated in my name and my wife’s name,” Meshri said. “It is a wonderful, wonderful feeling — like somebody gives you a bedroom in the house.”
For the actual cutting of the ribbon, Wichman and Staben were joined by current Vice President of Research and Economic Development Janet Nelson and the former Vice President of Research and Economic Development Jack McIver, who put considerable work into the IRIC project.
Wichman said working in a building like the new research center is a new experience for everyone.
“I don’t think everybody understood the vision for the building at first, but I think the people that are in here and the people that are coming to work … here are really excited,” Wichman said. “There’s a lot of energy.”
Jack Olson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org