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Meet the Digital Futures Dream Team

Findings Staff Report | Nov. 10, 2021

Digital Futures, UC’s six-floor, 180,000 square foot interdisciplinary research space under construction in the Cincinnati Innovation District, will contain advanced technologies, core facilities and a variety of collaborative research spaces for faculty, students and staff to work on creative, use-inspired and applied research with governmental, corporate and community partners.

“We envision a place where UC harnesses creativity, technology, science and the imagination to create measurable change and social impact,” says Vice President for Research Patrick Limbach. He and Associate Vice President for Research Jennifer Krivickas have been developing and implementing the overall strategy for Digital Futures since 2018.

And while the hard infrastructure investments are impressive, the Office of Research is equally excited about the people who have moved into new roles that are dedicated to making President Neville Pinto’s vision of Digital Futures a reality. A new team is now working towards Digital Futures’ grand opening next fall, working out details related to the space itself and creating the support systems and services that DF researchers need to reach their potential. These staff have joined the Office of Research Programs & Initiatives unit led by Associate VP Krivickas.

Office of Research staff on Team Digital Futures include Emily Kregor, who is leading Office of Research Internal Funding programs, Senior Research Associate Bryan Kowalczyk and Research Associate Justin Ouwerkerk, both of whom are leading research activities in Advanced Transportation. It also includes Engagement Events and Outreach Specialist Max Cormendy, Software Applications Developer Nate Elrod, Senior Grant Administrator Ashley Vu, as well as the additions of Tony Almaguer, Chris Collins and Jane Combs—familiar faces to many people at UC.

“The expertise and institutional knowledge of the leaders, staff and students—everyone here in Research Programs & Initiatives is tremendous,” Krivickas says. “They have the right combination of soft and hard skills that together will provide strong support for DF and UC researchers beyond DF. I am honored to be a part of the Office of Research, Digital Futures, and lead these teams.”

Findings took a moment to speak with Almaguer, Collins and Combs about their new roles within Digital Futures and the Office of Research.

“Awesome and exciting”

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Tony Almaguer has returned to the Office of Research to serve as Managing Director for the Digital Futures building. In this role, Almaguer is supporting the research labs in Digital Futures so those faculty and research teams can organize events and programming that will engage the research community and the Greater Cincinnati community at large. He also serves as a link between the research labs and P+D+C, which is overseeing building design and fit-out.

“There are so many great things happening at UC,” Almaguer says. “And the university’s investment in research is definitely part of that. It’s awesome and exciting how Digital Futures has been envisioned by university leadership as a truly interdisciplinary research space. I can’t wait to help everyone move in and get started.”

“Not just any other building”

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For many years now, Chris Collins has helped UC researchers and faculty better understand the virtual world. Her first position in 2001 in the IT department involved helping faculty learn to navigate and use the World Wide Web.

Digital capabilities have come a long way since then, and these days, as Associate Director of Research Technologies-Simulations & Virtual Environments, Collins helps researchers solve urgent problems in safe virtual and augmented realities, creating things such as training simulations and user experiences. Now, Collins’ role has expanded to support a full suite of shared facilities in the Digital Futures building including the high bay (for testing drones and other autonomous vehicles), a visualization lab, audio and recording facilities and more.

“Meeting the technology needs of the researchers there requires a lot of expertise—it’s not just any other building going up,” Collins says. “The research they want to do is really world-class, interesting and forward-thinking, so we need to have the most capable and forward-thinking infrastructure and facilities to support them.”

Collins leads a team that includes Software Applications Developer Ryan Gorsuch, Computer & Information Analyst Eric Camper, as well as co-op students; 3D modeler and animator Branden Bodnar, audio and hardware engineer Brandon Griffin and software developers Thomas Martin and Lucas Thielmann, and a half dozen undergraduate student workers.

“All about ease of use”

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Another great feature of Digital Futures, says Associate Director of Research Technologies-Research Computing and Data Jane Combs, is access to a complete ecosystem of advanced computing and storage tools required for data-intensive research.

The Digital Futures teams and their collaborators will have the ability to collect, analyze, share and store data—in quantities as large as their hearts desire—and ask for help at any step along the way from Combs and her team at Digital Futures. 

Combs spent the last 13 years working for IT@UC, helping researchers with high-performance computing and high-speed network needs, most recently in a pilot project called the Advanced Research Computing Center, which will become a permanent part of Digital Futures, streamlining the process like never before. 

“Researchers have wanted this for a long time,” Combs says. “We understand that every big data project is different, and our services will be very personalized. This is all about ease of use. We are looking forward to partnering with DF researchers not only to support them but also to learn from them so we can enhance that which we can do for those in the building and the entire research enterprise.”

Combs’ team includes Manager of Special Projects and Programs Amy Latessa, Lead Research Systems Engineer Kurt Roberts, Research Computing Facilitator Andrew Eisenhart, two graduate students who specialize in artificial intelligence and machine learning support, as well as two external technical advisors: George Turner, Chief HPC Systems Architect at Indiana University and Larry Schartman, a retired HPC system administrator, along with the ARC Advisory Board, which consists of UC researchers from various colleges and disciplines.

Continue to watch for updates in Findings on the building’s grand opening in the Fall 2022.

For more information about Digital Futures, please visit the Digital Futures website. Have questions? You can reach out to us via our the or by emailing digitalfutures@uc.edu.