The Department of Geology offers Baylor University an opportunity, through funding of this major strategic proposal, to support an innovative multidisciplinary research program consisting of Geology Department Faculty, to be designated as "The Baylor Research Initiative in Terrestrial Paleoclimatology". The establishment of such a research initiative directly supports both increased faculty research and graduate teaching elements of the Vision 2012 plan adopted by the University in 2002, as well as the "Critical Zone Concept" adopted by the National Research Council (NRC) in 2001, which recommends increased research funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and by the US government in general. The University would significantly enhance its reputation and solidify the national standing of one of its rising science departments by supporting this strategic plan, which emphasizes growth and expansion of an existing highly successful program known informally as "Paleoclimate and Paleoenvironment Analysis". This research group currently has a critical mass of five faculty members (Drs. Atchley, Driese, Dworkin, Feng and Nordt) that have already developed strong research synergy and excellence, as demonstrated by their current high levels of research publications, external grant funding, and Ph.D. student mentorship. Baylor University, by supporting this research initiative in the area of terrestrial paleoclimatology, would position the Geology Department to become nationally recognized among the U.S. Ph.D.-granting geoscience departments in the U.S. This would require adding three new faculty to the current five tenured and tenure-track faculty working on research in terrestrial paleoclimatology. Such Geology faculty growth, directed to existing areas of strength, was originally proposed in the 2002 Geology Ph.D. Needs Assessment. The three faculty hires would be intentionally targeted to strengthening the terrestrial paleoclimatology program, and would include one senior-level "superstar" hired at an advanced rank, as well as two junior faculty members hired at the Assistant Professor level. Possible research areas to be targeted include paleoclimate modeling, palynology or paleobotany, chronostratigraphy (especially using paleomagnetism), organic geochemistry, or geomicrobiology. In exchange for this increased base support from the University, the faculty comprising The Baylor Research Initiative in Terrestrial Paleoclimatology would commit to specific "benchmarks" as measured by increases in external grant funding, refereed publications, professional service, and Ph.D. enrollment, which all benefit the University.
The Geology Department is an excellent choice for a planned increase in faculty growth within this specific research niche because Terrestrial Paleoclimatology is a rapidly growing field of study and benefits society by providing ancient paleoclimate and paleoecological reconstructions useful for predicting anticipated future climate changes, especially related to increased emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. In support of this proposal we note the following achievements: (1) the Geology Department's overall recent improvements in research productivity and graduate (Ph.D.) enrollments, (2) its past and current successes in development of a very strong alumni base of support, (3) its availability of space for growth in the new Baylor Sciences Building, and (4) its success in engaging in multidisciplinary endeavors with other academic units on campus, such as the Departments of Biology and Environmental Studies, the Center for Research and Aquatic Systems Research (c.f. CRASR major strategic proposal), the proposed new Graduate Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Ecological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (c.f. TIEEES major strategic proposal). These interdisciplinary relationships ensure the future success of the proposed research initiative in terrestrial paleoclimatology, and its relevance to other academic units and centers on the Baylor University campus.