New director of USU’s Institutional Review Board

On February 17th, Nicole Vouvalis began as the new director of Utah State University’s Institutional Review Board.

“A university’s institutional review board serves a vital mission of ensuring the protection of human research participants by carefully reviewing research protocols before such studies are actually initiated,” said Jeff Broadbent, vice president for research and associate dean of Gradate Studies. “To function effectively, an IRB needs strong leadership and a good number of engaged faculty experts so that it holds the respect and attention of human subject researchers and research participants.”

Vouvalis graduated from Florida State University’s College of Law in 2010. She is licensed to practice law in three states, and has spent the past three years serving at USU as the diversity and special projects coordinator. This combination of legal and interpersonal experiences captures Vouvalis’ unique approach to the director position.

“I have a strong belief in social justice; when working as the diversity and special projects coordinator, I had the opportunity to work with minority and under-represented groups,” Vouvalis said. “This position more clearly incorporates my background in law, while having a focus in protecting human subjects in research, especially potentially vulnerable populations. This is a really great confluence of those two things.”

Broadbent accounts the success and credibility of USU’s IRB to the strong leadership offered by former IRB Director True Rubal, who retired after 20 years of service.

“Finding a capable director to replace True was critical, and I am very pleased the search committee was able to recruit Nicole into this role,” Broadbent said. “Nicole brings the right combination of expertise and leadership talent we need to continue advancing the IRB’s service to the campus and community well into the future.”

Vouvalis said institutional and community outreach is especially important to her. “I see that coming in a lot of forms in this position,” she said.

Vouvalis hopes to instigate training programs to familiarize students and faculty on the common regulations researchers need to be in compliance with, and to familiarize researchers with the IRB process.

Extending outreach efforts, Vouvalis recognizes that research initiatives extend beyond USU to the wider community.

“Utah State’s IRB can provide a valuable service to these researchers; a lot of research proposals would take place in schools,” she said. “Given my previous position, I have lots of connections with K-12 schools in Cache Valley and the wider area. I am thus able to use my personal connections to maximize our researchers efforts.”

Anyone doing research with human beings must submit an application for the IRB for review. All applications are accepted electronically through an online platform, Protis, and resources for delineating the application process and necessary materials is available in the investigator handbook.

“It’s important for researchers to know that the IRB is required by federal law, “ Vouvalis said. “We have to be in compliance so research denials happen, but they are pretty infrequent. The IRB is not here to stop you from doing your research. It’s here to help you do it in the most ethical way.”

Emily James | Project Management and Communications | Office of Research and Graduate Studies | emily.james@usu.edu