Strategic Hiring Initiative – Cluster Hire

Application Process

The following items comprise the required components of the proposal for the SHI-Cluster Hire program. The designated faculty leader will be responsible for entering data and uploading documents in the campus online system on behalf of all units participating in the strategic theme. Proposals should be submitted via the proposal management system.

  1. Cluster Theme/Title – Provide a short descriptive title of the strategic theme.
  2. Overview – Provide a brief overview of the SHI-Cluster Hire area of scholarship, including its connection with campus priorities, how it connects to existing strengths, and how it enhances the reputation and visibility of our campus.
  3. Cluster Units – List the participating units (departments, schools, colleges, and centers/institutes).
  4. Proposal Description – Address each of the following questions:
    • How would the proposed SHI-Cluster Hires enhance faculty strength across all participating units, including its diversity goals and intellectual priorities?
    • How would the SHI-Cluster Hires enhance curricular offerings and the ability of participating units to address student needs and experiences, especially for undergraduates?
    • What are the possible external funding opportunities and resources that the SHI-Cluster Hires can compete for and access?
    • How would the hiring units collaborate to ensure that the SHI-Cluster Hires take full advantage of the synergy among the relevant faculty members through the hiring process and beyond? Describe strategies for mentoring, building support networks, and enhancing the engagement of faculty members with each other.
    • How would the hired faculty members (and current faculty members who fit the strategic theme) build and sustain their collaboration and engagement with each other to ensure that the SHI-Cluster Hire program fulfills its promise?
  5. Letters of Support – The application should include the letters of support:
    • Department Letter of Support (required) – Letters from the executive officers of each participating unit must be included. Each letter must include:
      • A statement confirming support for the SHI-Cluster Hire strategic theme.
      • Description of anticipated additional costs associated with faculty recruitment that will be incurred (e.g., expected salary beyond the maximum amount for each rank, start-up packages, etc.) and the unit’s ability to fund those costs.
      • The unit’s plan to sustain the salary cost after the matching support through the SHI-Cluster Hire program expires.
    • College Letter of Support (required) – A brief statement from the dean of each participating college must be included. Each letter must confirm support and indicate if the cluster were selected, the college will include the position in the upcoming academic year’s hiring plan.
    • Center/Institute Letter of Support (if applicable) – A letter from the executive officer of participating centers/institutes indicating support for the cluster.


We will accept SHI-Cluster Hire proposals through August 1, 2024.  There will be an announcement of initial approvals on June 15, 2024, and an additional announcement of approvals on August 16, 2024. 

Funding Allocation

Awards will take the form of either non-recurring salary support OR contributions to a start-up package. Upon approval of their proposal, units will be asked to specify the type and level of support they seek for the SHI-Cluster Hire position.

Salary Awards

The Office of the Provost will provide non-recurring support for tenure-stream faculty as follows:

  • For an Assistant Professor recruit, support will be for the starting salary up to $100,000 for a period of up to five years or the end of the probationary period, whichever comes first.
  • For an Associate Professor recruit, support will be for the starting salary up to $125,000 for a period of up to three years.
  • For a Full Professor recruit, support will be for the starting salary up to $150,000 for a period of up to three years.

Units will be responsible for making up any difference between the campus commitment and the actual starting salary during the funding period, and the entire salary cost when the funding period ends.

Start-up Awards

As an alternative to salary support, the Office of the Provost will, on request, provide non-recurring equipment and lab renovation support as follows:

  • For an Assistant Professor recruit, maximum start-up support is $500,000.
  • For an Associate Professor recruit, maximum start-up support is $375,000.
  • For a Full Professor recruit, maximum start-up support is $450,000.

Application Review

Cluster hire proposals will be reviewed by the SHI-Cluster Hire Advisory Ad Hoc Committee composed of select faculty and college- and campus-level executive officers and chaired by the Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Final approval rests with the Provost.

Additional Information

This SHI-Cluster Hire program does not preclude the Targets of Opportunity Program (TOP), which is still in effect and offers recurring salary support for TOP candidates identified through the traditional search process. However, funding from both the TOP and SHI-Cluster Hire programs cannot be combined for an individual candidate. The TOP Search Waiver Process will continue to be available for units that wish to pursue outstanding TOP-eligible candidates outside of the SHI-Cluster Hire program. The Dual Career Program is also still in effect, but funding from both Dual Career and SHI-Cluster Hire programs cannot be combined for a single candidate.

For questions about the SHI-Cluster Hire program, please contact Amy Santos, Associate Provost for Faculty Development at or 217-333-6677.

Funded SHI-Cluster Hire Projects (2024-2025)

Climate Impacts, Risk, and Inequality

Lead Faculty: Robert Rauber

Proposed Number of Hires: 4

Participating Departments:

  • Atmospheric Sciences (LAS)
  • Earth and Environmental Change (LAS)
  • Geographic Information Science (LAS)
  • Journalism (Media)


Climate change is arguably the greatest societal challenge our students will collectively face within their lifetimes. As a public land-grant institution, it is our responsibility to empower them with the knowledge and skills to tackle the challenges that climate change will bring to society. Mitigating and adapting to climate change is a transdisciplinary problem, as climate risk arises at the intersection of physical hazards, societal exposure, and social vulnerability. Greenhouse gas emissions lead to changes in the physical climate system (e.g., temperature, precipitation), which in turn drive environmental hazards such as floods, droughts, and hazardous weather. These hazards impact humans unequally across space and time, as the exposure and vulnerability of communities is determined by geography and strongly amplified by structural inequalities. Traditional ways of assessing climate change outcomes, focused on coarse-grained quantities such as global temperature and GDP, can lead to highly inequitable outcomes: for example, Africa’s development being stopped – or even reversed – by climate change barely registers as a blip in these traditional integrated assessments.

Despite more news coverage of climate change, the percentage of Americans expressing worry about global warming, climate change, air pollution and extinction of species has dropped from 46 percent in 2020 to 39 percent in 2023. The increased visibility of environmental issues, reflected in the headlines such as “Extreme Heat,” and “Washington Could Be Facing Its Worst Wildfire Season Yet” seems not to translate into a public sense of urgency. Because climate change threatens every aspect of our lives, from geopolitics to health, a new generation of students must be scientifically literate and specially trained to explain and respond to many of its facets. We believe that expertise combined with the power of communication is required to engage audiences with environmental topics to the levels that convince elected officials to enact policies and take actions to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.

To ensure that we achieve the desired transformational outcomes, multiple units within the College of LAS, with cooperation from other colleges (see FAA and Media support letters) are proposing to leverage the resources provided by the SHI Cluster Hire Proposal, LAS Cluster Hires and the annual LAS hiring process to establish over the next three years a network of cluster hires in support of a Sustainable, Just, and Resilient Society in the face of Environmental and Societal Change. Our proposed cluster will be part of that network. The network will establish a cohort of new professors who can transform our institution’s ability to address the grand challenges facing society in Illinois and around the world, such as ameliorating the impacts of climate change on food security, human health, and ecosystem integrity, developing alternative technologies for clean energy and agricultural sustainability, and addressing social injustice arising from environmental inequities. The new hires over the next three years will have expertise that spans the social and behavioral sciences, humanities, and physical and biological sciences, with activities across the cohort coordinated through the new LAS Associate Dean of Research.

Neuro-Informatics: Big Data Computational Systems Neuroscience

Lead Faculty: Yurii Vlaslov

Proposed Number of Hires: 6

Participating Departments:

  • Electrical and Computer Engineering (Grainger)
  • Computer Science (Grainger)
  • BioEngineering (Grainger
  • Statistics (LAS)
  • Psychology (LAS)
  • Molecular and Integrative Physiology (LAS)


The objective of this Strategic Hiring Initiative (SHI) proposal is to hire 6 (six) computational neuroscientists and statisticians that will serve as a catalyst to establish UIUC as a center of excellence in computational systems neuroscience. These hires will have expertise in computer science, biomedical informatics, and computational neuroscience, with a primary focus of understanding the function of the brain in disease and health. Multiple departments across the campus in GCOE and LAS are participating in this effort. The ultimate goal is to build a sustainable critical mass that all stakeholders will leverage from to accelerate their strategic initiatives as well as to propel cross-disciplinary thrusts across colleges, schools and departments that otherwise are unimaginable.

The 21st Century has been dubbed the “Century of the Brain” (Yuste R. & Church G. M., Technologies for Hacking the Brain, Scientific American 310, 3: 38-45, 2014) with the expectation that the pursuit of an understanding of the function of the human nervous system will be a defining scientific and industrial endeavor over the forthcoming decades. Reverse engineering of the brain has been identified by the National Academy of Engineering as a matter of priority to “realize the brain’s potential to teach us how to make machines learn and think”. Scientific efforts in neuroscience to understand the brain are becoming increasingly ambitious due to revolutionary advances in brain-machine interfaces, noninvasive functional neuroimaging, and high-resolution brain mapping, together with an increasing precision with which neuromodulatory stimuli and molecular and cellular technologies generate vast amount of labeled data. Large-scale basic research efforts are currently underway, supported by the US National BRAIN Initiative, Human Connectome Project, as well as the European Union Human Brain Project and many private foundations, while new companies such as Neuralink of Elon Musk are inspiring curiosity from the next generation of STEM trainees.

Not only can the human brain be a source of inspiration for new computational machines and boost the economic growth globally, but also brain disorders and abnormalities can cripple the global economy since they account for more than 34% of the global disease burden. Therefore, there is an urgent need to translate research findings in neuroscience to clinical interventions due to the increasingly deleterious impact of neurological and psychiatric disorders on the worldwide population and the U.S. healthcare system, compounded by unsolved problems in clinical pain management and addiction.

Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Digital Transformation

Lead Faculty: Jennifer Robbenolt

Proposed Number of Hires: 3

Participating Departments:

  • Law (LAW)
  • Computer Sciences (Grainger)
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering (Grainger)


Recent advancements in digital technologies challenge existing ethical and legal paradigms. How do we balance individual privacy with secure systems as we create more trustworthy critical infrastructure systems, such as energy grids and networked computer and communication systems? Should there be limits on the use of patient-generated or environmental metadata used to track health outcomes (e.g., wearable devices, smart home devices, social media, etc.)? How should we address jurisdictions that use (often proprietary) algorithms to conduct risk assessments throughout the criminal justice system, from predictive policing to decisions about setting bail, sentencing, and parole?

The settings and technologies are diverse, and these are just a few examples. But they each raise shared and significant societal issues. In particular, they involve a common need to balance competing values and demands (such as privacy versus transparency) and to develop ways to ensure fairness as society undergoes profound digital transformation.

The proposed cluster’s focus on the “Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Digital Transformation” is directly tied to the University’s Strategic Plan and its commitment to the “just, safe, sustainable, and peaceful progress of the world’s digital transformation” (Goal 1(D)). It advances the goals of innovative scholarship and discovery, transformative learning experiences, and societal impact through strategic investment. The cluster theme views digital innovation through a broad lens, taking seriously the societal impacts of the transformation and including the legal and ethical considerations that will help us think about what technological innovations should do for society and not just what they can do.

Targeted hiring focused on the ethical, legal, and social aspects of digital technology positions the University to be a global leader on these issues, leveraging the existing strengths of the University in multidisciplinary collaboration, societal impact, and global leadership. The University – including many of the participants in the proposed cluster – does more than just participate in global digital developments. It drives the transformation. The proposed cluster provides the ability to look to the future in a fast-moving area and to shape it, allowing the University to be at the forefront in considering the implications of tomorrow’s technology, rather than yesterday’s.

This cluster is also unusual in that it is not just interdisciplinary, but interprofessional, tying the College of Law together with core and renowned STEM areas in the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Grainger College of Engineering. Coordination with University of Illinois Colleges, Centers, and Institutes is a key part of supporting continuing interaction, and we plan to leverage their interest and participation in the cluster. The Carle Illinois College of Medicine and the Gies College of Business join the law school in providing interprofessional connections to the cluster in broad and significant areas of application. Faculty within these Colleges engage in a broad range of scholarship related to the cluster’s theme of fair digital transformation, e.g., ethics, trust, and applications of AI. The shared work of the cluster will also touch specifically on their areas of professional expertise. Work on the health status of populations, for example, clearly engages the medical community. The cluster’s theme also resonates with existing interest at the College of Business in the purposeful advancement of technology, whether used in interactions within organizations, to determine how markets allocate resources, or in other contexts central to the College’s scholarship and teaching.

Campus Centers and Institutes provide key mechanisms for connecting faculty members hired into the cluster and other interested scholars across the campus. In particular, the Information Trust Institute (ITI) will work to facilitate research interactions among members of the cluster and other interested faculty across campus. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications will provide a home for scholarly connection that integrates disciplines in studying the impact of computing on society, as well as supporting this interdisciplinary work by contributing computing and data resources. Cluster faculty with relevant interests will be able to participate in one of the Institute for Genomic Biology’s multidisciplinary thematic research groups, including the personalized medicine theme or the genomic security and privacy theme. The Center for Social and Behavioral Sciences will be instrumental in connecting newly hired faculty members to social scientists on campus with interests in the social aspects of digital transformation.

Other campus Centers provide sites of focused inquiry into a variety of technology applications that grapple with ethical, legal, and social issues, including questions of appropriate data stewardship (the Cline Center), immersive computing, (IMMERSE), digital health sector transformation and infodemic management (the Center for Health Informatics), geospatial technologies (the CyberGIS Center), and the impact of digital revolution on gender equality and equity (the Women and Gender in Global Perspectives Program). Developing and strengthening these partnerships will enable scholarship that can creatively and productively address the complicated ethical, legal, and social questions that lie at the intersection of information privacy, cyberlaw and cybersecurity, and digital justice.

Sophisticated exploration of these issues requires deep, specialized, and collaborative scholarly expertise to combine understanding of the specific contexts in which these thorny issues arise, appreciation of the capabilities and applications of the technology itself, awareness of the existing legal and ethical frameworks for privacy and property, and the shared willingness to take an expansive and interdisciplinary view of innovation and change. A diverse cohort of faculty focused on these intersections promises to advance the science, develop appropriate applications of the science, and shape policy and other approaches to the complex social issues in play.

The proposed focus on fair digital transformation touches on a wide range of emerging technologies, including quantum computing; machine learning and algorithmic decision making; the internet of things (IoT); wearable, smart home, and environmental digital devices and metadata; health analytics and apps, genomics, and personalized medicine; mechanisms of surveillance; and networked computer and communication systems. In part because of its broad implications, the demand for serious scholarship and expertise in this area is striking. The resulting work is global in scope and broad in application, with great potential to contribute to the reputation and visibility of the University.

Advancing AI for Community Health by Leveraging Machine Learning, Mobile Sensing, and Smart Environments

Lead Faculty: James Rehg

Proposed Number of Hires: 4

Participating Departments:

  • Computer Sciences (Grainger)
  • Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering (Grainger)
  • Kinesiology and Community Health (AHS)
  • Recreation, Sport, and Tourism (AHS)


A key challenge facing the US healthcare system is to improve health outcomes and reduce the cost of care for patients with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart failure. The increasing adoption of mobile health technology, in the form of smart watches, and of smart home technologies such as Amazon Alexa, create an unprecedented opportunity to address these challenges. These technologies provide a means to measure health-related variables from a patient’s daily life environment and deliver health-related messaging, motivation, and other forms of intervention to patients in real-time. Via this feedback loop, patients can be given new tools for achieving their health-related goals while working more effectively with care-providers. Moreover, innovations in wearable sensors, such as the Dexcom patch for continuous glucose monitoring, provide an opportunity to go beyond standard behavioral biomarkers like step counts and study the link between risk factors and complex processes such as the development of insulin resistance. Additionally, insights into the structural barriers to health improvements, such as a lack of safe and accessible recreational areas, can be obtained to inform community development and public policy. Moreover, these technologies can improve access to care in digital rural health, by allowing care providers to assay a patient’s health status without inpatient visits or nursing outcall. Achieving these goals requires advances in multiple areas: machine learning methods that can leverage high volume streaming sensor data to infer states of health and behavior; novel adaptive intervention designs that can deliver just-in-time feedback; control systems modeling approaches that can characterize and optimize the closed-loop performance of such real-time interventions; and HCI and human factors research that can engage patients, clinicians, and stakeholders in designing health solutions via participatory design, while also addressing ethical and privacy concerns.

The cluster hire will create an interdisciplinary faculty cohort that will build on CoE strengths in machine learning, control systems, and HCI, and extend them to address the unique challenges of data-driven community health. Additionally, it will build on CAHS strengths in community health (with a focus on aging and disabled populations that comprise a significant percentage of rural healthcare consumers) and human factors and user experience modeling to illuminate the barriers and opportunities around technology adoption and optimization. It will extend these strengths by incorporating sensing and data-driven modeling technologies. While peer institutions have created programs in computational health targeting traditional datasets such as electronic health records, our focus on community health and rural populations is a unique differentiator that will position UIUC for national leadership in a data-driven, wearable-centric approach to improving health outcomes for individuals and communities. Moreover, the cluster hire is aligned with UIUC’s Health Innovation Visioning Committee recommendations surrounding rural health, healthy aging, physical and mental well-being, and personalized health, in the context of the new Institute for Health Innovation. The cluster would also benefit CI-MED by creating additional opportunities for student training and strengthening faculty recruiting. It leverages prior investments such as the LIFE Home research facility and the revenue-generating Master’s of Science in Health Technology (MSHT).