You can find Kristin Bowman-James all over the university campus.
The distinguished professor of chemistry has her lab in Malott Hall. And she’s also the administrator for a large federally funded project housed at Foley Hall that’s known by its many initials: Kansas NSF EPSCoR.
That’s the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, for those keeping score at home.
She also is heavily involved in the university’s ongoing strategic planning process, helping to lead the Driving Discovery and Innovation subgroup, which is coming up with major areas of focus for KU’s research into the future.
And, sometimes, although not as much lately, you can catch her on the drag-racing track, too, enjoying her fast-car hobby.
First appointed to the KU chemistry faculty in 1975, Bowman-James has risen through the ranks to her position today, where she oversees far more than just chemistry.
The NSF EPSCoR project helps bring federal funds to states that have traditionally not received as much funding as other states.
Bowman-James said she noticed this when she first arrived at KU, and recalled bringing it up then and being shown a map of where federally funded projects were. Each project was represented by a pin, she said.
“There were a huge number of pins in California and a huge number of pins on the East Coast and not much in between,” she said.
The Kansas project, led by Bowman-James, is funded by a $20 million grant. It funds a collaborative effort among four Kansas universities: KU, Kansas State, Wichita State and Haskell Indian Nations University.
The grant funds four major projects:
- An effort to use nanotechnology to harness solar energy, led by Judy Wu, university distinguished professor of physics at KU.
- An assessment of how farmers make decisions about which crops to grow, led by Dietrich Earnhart, associate professor of economics at KU.
- A project that will use climate modeling techniques to predict the effects of climate change, led by Chuck Rice, university distinguished professor of agronomy at Kansas State.
- A development of an educational pathway for American Indians to earn doctoral degrees and an exploration of climate change and energy issues on Native American lands, led by Joane Nagel, university distinguished professor of sociology at KU, and Dan Wildcat, a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University.
Earnhart, a relatively young KU professor, said Bowman-James was “a joy to work with.”
He said she was focused and effective at getting people to accomplish large tasks. She’s not afraid to tackle the big stuff, Earnhart said.
He said she is also adept at pushing people to drive to succeed, and pulling back at just the right moment to soften the approach. Earnhart said Bowman-James will pull him aside and ask how his family is doing and how they’re dealing with a health issue. The ability to work together and have a deep, personal touch is rare among administrators, Earnhart said.
She is also working on KU’s strategic plan, which is looking at how KU can increase its research capabilities.
“KU is right now in a very fortunate position because we have incredible, capable, competent faculty,” she said. “And where KU could improve is in the facilitation of their research.”
The research infrastructure was really not there even in 1995, she said, when she became department chair. It has come along since then, and the provost’s strategic plan should identify areas where KU can improve even more.
The plan will also identify some major areas of research emphasis, she said, and will involve KU researchers tackling some of the big ideas facing the world today.
But she still finds time for her hobby. Bowman-James said she’s been in love with cars for a very long time.
“I used to sit on my father’s lap, and he would let me steer the car out of his driveway,” she said.
She met her current husband at Heartland Park raceway in Topeka, and she recently bought a 2010 Corvette Grand Sport. She also has owned another 1975 Corvette and an earlier convertible.
Bowman-James said the allure is simple: being able to go fast. She even admitted traveling (very briefly, she’s quick to point out) at 135 mph in her new Corvette on Interstate 35 in the Kansas City area.
“It’s like a runner’s high,” she said.