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Autism institute begins search for director

Charlie Lee | Hatchet Photographer
Charlie Lee | Hatchet Photographer

GW’s 4-year-old autism institute may have to wait until the start of next academic year to have an official leader.

Leo Chalupa, GW’s vice president for research, said a search committee for the director of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Initiative was formed about two months ago, but he wanted the faculty involved to take their time trying to fill the position.

“I want it so that when that person gets hired, emails will go all around the world,” he said. “‘Did you know who they got?’ ‘They got this, she’s the best one in the field.’ I want that. I don’t want them to say, ‘Who’d they hire there?’”

Chalupa said the group has had to go through several steps, including writing a job description, publishing ads and recruiting top prospects for the position.

“What you need to do is make up a list of the top 50 people, call them up, and say, ‘Hey, we have a great opportunity here at George Washington University, let me tell you what it is,’” he said.

He added that the ideal candidate would already have research funding, be considered a leader in the field and would be willing to collaborate with existing autism researchers at GW. More than 80 faculty members do some kind of work with autism or neurodevelopmental disorders at the University.

Chalupa said he would reach out to a faculty member from another school who spoke on campus last month – an example of how the University might be able to recruit top prospects for the position.

“We’ve got great people on it, and I’m confident that they’ll make the right choices,” he said.

Olga Price, an associate professor in the Milken Institute School of Public Health, said the search would formally begin once the committee finalized the description for the position over the next couple of weeks.

She said the committee hopes to attract a candidate with a clear vision for the center.

“We are really looking for an exceptional research scholar who will help develop partnerships and implement strategies and oversee organizational structures that will be associated with the [Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders] initiative,” Price said.

The search committee will start identifying potential directors as soon as the position is formally open, she said.

Nelson Carbonell, the chair of the Board of Trustees, and his wife donated $2.5 million to fund the director’s position this spring. Their son was diagnosed with the disorder when he was 2 years old.

The autism institute would be one of 10 institutes that the University has launched or plans to launch as part of its strategic plan. It would need $10 million in funding to get off the ground.

GW has started five institutes since Chalupa’s arrival. He said last year that he hoped to open interdisciplinary research institutes focused on food and global economics.

Those institutes would need large donations to even begin at GW. The University has set out to raise at least $154 million for research projects as part of its $1 billion fundraising campaign.

Chalupa also said the search for a director of the genomics research institute, which is based at the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, is ongoing.

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