RESEARCH AROUND CAMPUS: Coles College of Business initiatives support and grow faculty research

Jomon PaulKENNESAW, Ga. (Apr 19, 2019) — Jomon Paul wears two hats in Coles College of Business. Like any Kennesaw State University professor, he teaches undergraduate and graduate students in business. He conducts decision sciences research related to optimizing resource allocation in health care, disaster planning and transportation.

He also encourages and promotes the scholarship of business faculty through his unique role as the college’s director of research. With a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from the University of Buffalo in New York, Paul has been at KSU for over a decade and has served as director of research since 2014.

In this conversation with the Office of Research, Paul discusses how the Coles College of Business supports its faculty in their research endeavors.  

What is your research background and what influenced you to come to KSU?

I have my Ph.D. in industrial engineering specializing in operations research and my dissertation focused on disaster planning in relation to hospital capacity. I was researching how to dynamically estimate capacities available at hospitals in a region so casualties could be optimally routed. I have also completed consulting work with hospitals trying to improve emergency room wait time issues and surgical suite patient satisfaction issues.

I came here because my department (Economics, Finance and Quantitative Analysis) has a significant interest in health care research and disaster planning. At the same time, I also appreciate the different mindsets of my colleagues. As an industrial engineer researcher, my exposure has only included fellow industrial engineers. While it is great that we all think alike, it can also limit in some sense how we think a problem could be solved. As a professor in a business school, I am able to see innovative ways of looking at issues that I might never have thought about as an engineer. One of the focal points of my research is decision making under uncertainty with the end goal of creating solutions robust to certainty. I think that’s precisely where multiple perspectives and multiple expertise play a great role. I think my 12 years here having faith in that process has been more than justified through projects and papers that continue to help me solve relevant problems that drive my research – health care, disaster planning, counterterrorism and transportation.    

How did you become the director of research in Coles College?

As we were planning for the next five years, we wanted to increase our emphasis on research as part of our college’s strategic mission in terms of productivity. We wanted to make sure to highlight research, produce impactful research and provide faculty the mechanisms to support that activity. As a teaching university, we have different kinds of resources available to support teaching, but there was a need for a similar framework for the research space in Coles College.  So the position was created and I am the first person in this role – I am the person who oversees research activities in Coles College. It is not your typical admin position – I am an advocate and supporter for the faculty with regard to their research endeavors while being actively involved in teaching, research and service as a regular faculty member. 

What are some of the initiatives that you have spearheaded to achieve Coles College’s research objectives?

As director of research, my fundamental goals are to provide encouragement and support to our faculty and promote their research activities to our external peers ranging from academics to practitioners.  These goals drive the initiatives that I have developed such as finding new ways to provide resources, connecting people who are similar-minded, and better utilizing limited resources. 

I work with the research development committee which is charged with giving out competitive grants to faculty that can be used to buy data and software needed for their research. This same committee gives out faculty awards as a way to recognize the work of our faculty.

I also work with the department chairs to make sure all faculty are aware of the ways our dollars are spent so there is no redundancy in resource allocation. To that end, I have worked with the Coles webmaster to create a webpage listing the databases and software that has been bought with no user restrictions so that all departments can benefit. I also started an annual research magazine, highlighting faculty publications in premier business journals such as the Financial Times’ Top 50 – as well as highlighting outstanding Ph.D. student work. The magazine is used as a platform to emphasize the implications of Coles College research for the academic and business communities. Faculty whose research is published in a journal ranked in the Financial Times’ Top 50 also receive a cash award automatically without having to apply to give recognition to this accomplishment. We also support faculty with summer research fellowships that are determined through a competitive process.

I am proud of our most recent initiative – an annual research symposium – in which KSU faculty (selected through a competitive process) and invited prominent scholars from other universities and industry experts present their research on a timely topic. The first symposium was held in October 2018 with the theme of homeland security. We had scholars from Wisconsin-Madison, Alabama, Buffalo and the University of Southern California, for example. This event was an opportunity to initiate important conversations between our faculty in different colleges and with our external peers on homeland security issues, cybersecurity, counterterrorism, natural disaster planning, and airport security. We also had a lunchtime poster session in which KSU students presented their research.

These are just a few examples of what we have accomplished in 4 years since I took on this role.

What kind of internal resources are available that can assist faculty with their research publications and/or research collaborations?

I started a Working Paper Series in which Coles College faculty can submit their work for anonymous review – usually two people from the same discipline. They get the feedback they can use to improve their paper and that always enhances publication prospects. I have personally benefitted quite a bit when I have submitted my work for review that has helped me be accepted into the next journal. Along the same lines, I started the Research Seminar Series where we have six speakers, three internal and three external, every semester who present their ongoing or most recently completed projects. Everyone involved benefits from interacting with peers from the same discipline to exchange ideas that may lead to future collaborations. The presenters also work with our students in our D.B.A. (Ph.D.) program which further enrich their academic experiences.

How does Coles College support undergraduate researchers in business?

We are always looking to improve what we already have. We have our centers which provide support grants to students who want to engage in research and they are paired with faculty members. We are actively creating opportunities and actively encouraging our students to conduct research. Our dean, Kathy Schwaig (now KSU Provost), has been very generous in providing monetary support for our students to participate in conferences. Even as we design our courses, we are adding elements that will facilitate the research involvement. That is one of the reasons I have worked closely with the Office of Research in terms of helping faculty find and apply for external grants that promote student research.

What are the top three research strengths of Coles College?

The top areas Coles College faculty are engaged in are: homeland security, cybersecurity with involvement from faculty from different disciplines such as information systems, economics, quantitative analysis; accounting research focused on auditing and corporate governance; and behavioral research in the management space such as employee relations and sales and marketing. 

Why it is important to include research-based initiatives in faculty development?

I think all the initiatives fit well together to help sustain us and move us to the next level like when we became an R3 institution (and now upgraded to an R2 institution). When we have these kinds of support mechanisms in place for faculty, we are investing in our faculty’s professional growth which in turn builds up our academic programs, ultimately benefitting our students who will be future business leaders and scholars. With our past dean, Kathy Schwaig, and our current interim dean, Robin Cheramie, being mindful of where our faculty are headed in the future, we can be proactive instead of reactive to the changing landscape of academia and industry.

–Joëlle Walls