Sarita Soni said she came to IU with two suitcases and a brain.
Soni, who recently retired from her role as associate vice president for research and vice provost for research, was recently awarded the Provost’s Medal in recognition of her service to IU.
She earned a doctor of optometry degree from IU in 1976 where she has since filled several positions, including lecturer, professor and associate dean.
Soni then accepted the position of IU’s associate vice president for research in 2004 and the position of IU Bloomington’s first vice provost for research in 2006.
She said her work in optometry spurred her interest in research.
“I was always looking at questions that patients asked me and I’d find answers in either this way or that way,” she said.
As the associate vice president for research and vice provost for research, Soni was responsible for overseeing current internal funding programs, developing new external funding sources, overseeing research development services and fostering high quality research, according to the executive vice president for University Academic Affairs’ website.
“She was in charge of overseeing the research enterprise of the Bloomington campus,” Jorge José, vice president for research, said. “That includes biological and physical sciences as well as arts and the humanities. She also managed several centers and institutes, including the two museums that we have in the Bloomington campus.”
As the associate vice president for research and vice provost for research, Soni championed translational research, collaboration between professors and students and collaboration among researchers.
While basic research attempts to understand what happens and why purely for the sake of obtaining that knowledge, translational research attempts to understand what happens and why for the sake of applying that knowledge to real world problems, Soni said.
By encouraging collaboration between professors and students, Soni said she hopes students feel more comfortable approaching professors about research.
“A lot of students feel that faculty, when they are doing their research, are not engaged with the students,” she said. “And I think that’s a bit of a myth.”
Soni said she hopes that a lot of researchers will focus on the few problems spurred by the campus Strategic Plan, which urged faculty to identify and tackle one or two problems, termed grand challenges, per year over the next five years.
During the development of the Strategic Plan, Soni said she led a team of 18 researchers, representing the arts and humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and the professional schools, in identifying potential grand challenges.
“Over the next five years, I’d be delighted if we come up with four really good ideas that would help our faculty focus, our graduate students focus, our undergraduate students focus and get to those points and make an impact,” she said.
In honor of Soni’s dedication to transitional research, collaboration between professors and students, collaboration among researchers and the Strategic Plan, Provost Robel awarded Soni the Provost’s Medal, an accolade that recognizes outstanding service that builds and enhances the impact of IU, according to the University.
“Dr. Soni brought the academic expertise and instincts of a top-ranked researcher in her field as well as the experience of having been the acting dean of a school to her role as vice provost for research,” Robel said in an email.
Robel said she hopes the person who fills the role will continue along the path set by Soni.
“I feel confident that the person who would be successful at this role will be someone who knows and cherishes our research history and understands and values research in all of the fields represented on the campus,” Robel said.
Soni, who said she will chair a faculty student welfare roundtable aimed at tackling the issue of sexual assault, said she hopes the person who fills her role will continue along the trajectory set by the Strategic Plan.
“I hope that we will continue to move forward in trying to establish areas of excellence on the Bloomington campus that have a major national and international impact,” she said.