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Recognizing intelligent innovation at ASU

Karen Walker awarded the 2022 National Organization of Research Development Professionals Innovation Award

ASU Charter sign on the Tempe campus.
August 10, 2022

For any public research institution, the task of translating its intellectual capacity into something senior leaders and investors can get behind is nothing less than an issue of existential importance.

At Arizona State University, Karen Walker has been doing just that for 15 years. Recently, the assistant director of research development within Knowledge Enterprise was awarded the 2022 National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP) Innovation Award for that work.

Walker’s innovation is relatively simple: take formal corporate practice and adapt it to the more collaborative and open environment of academia.

“When we tell the story of research development at ASU, it goes something like, ‘We were two girls and a dream,’” said Faye Farmer, executive director of research development in Knowledge Enterprise. “The reality is that we really enjoyed what we did and believed others found it useful. Turns out, we were right. Karen started a movement in academia and now, she’s a sought-after authority for establishing a strategic intelligence function at universities everywhere.”

Meeting an increasing demand

This past fiscal year, Walker’s staff of three people produced 81 reports and analyses to inform strategic decision-making, in addition to many presentations on competitive programs for federal funding. This year, the team has tracked federal funding using a bi-weekly memo format that is sent to college-level leaders.

As a former team member, Jamie Burns, now employed by an industry group, can attest, “Karen and her team have developed a robust network of clients across ASU’s campus. Under Karen’s leadership, the team has standardized products and processes while remaining nimble enough to innovate and meet stakeholder needs. The team has consistently grown its reach and service to the university, a testament to the quality of the intelligence they provide.”

In 2017, Walker developed several capacity analyses for Vice Provost Elizabeth Wentz. One helped inform a proposal to a local nonprofit, which was awarded approximately $15 million. Similarly, Walker provided unique support for Wentz, including institutional information for ASU’s NSF ADVANCE proposal, which was funded at approximately $3 million in 2018.

“Karen’s analyses were incredibly comprehensive. Taking data and making it into accessible information is critical when walking through a strategic planning exercise. Under her leadership, her team consistently produces high-quality documents that start as a simple question but have significant impact on what we decide to pursue,” Wentz said.

Innovation Award

The NORDP Innovation Award recognizes those who have “unique skills or resources to kick-start innovation in research development in ways that generate evidence of promise or demonstrable results.”

Walker’s work has yielded real gains for research development and has forged new connections with institutional peers. For example, she partners regularly with The Ohio State University Strategic Intelligence and Mapping Unit, which focuses on industry research business development.

Walker’s team has attracted new talent to the research development field, and she has consulted with many universities over the past few years that have gone on to establish their own dedicated intelligence units.

In 2018, Walker founded the Competitive Intelligence Working Group (CIWG) as a national resource for those in academia interested in exploring competitive intelligence.

“Knowledge Enterprise has led the national conversation on research in so many ways. Karen’s commitment to the university’s positioning and dedication to surfacing our expertise is unwavering. This award is a wonderful recognition of the value of her work and the impact it has nationally,” said Sally Morton, executive vice president of research in Knowledge Enterprise.

Research Development maintains the website If interested, you can sign up to receive weekly information regarding general federal funding programs and outreach events on the main page.

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