The term research – originally derived from the French word "recherche” in the 1500s – means "to seek," more specifically to seek new knowledge, and that’s a firm practice Omathanu “Om” Perumal has believed in since he was a child. It’s the mantra that has guided Perumal throughout his academic journey to his latest role as the next University of New Mexico (UNM) associate vice president for research.
“We are all excited to bring Om on board the OVPR at UNM, as he will bring a fresh perspective and outstanding research credentials to our operation. Moreover, with a faculty home appointment in the College of Pharmacy, we believe Om will provide a unique opportunity for us to continue to build cross-campus collaborations and thereby further advance UNM’s 2040 goal of One University,” said Ellen Fisher, UNM vice president for research.
"I am truly inspired by UNM's commitment to fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. It reaffirms my belief in the importance of creating an environment where every individual’s unique perspective and experience are respected and celebrated." - Omathanu “Om” Perumal, UNM associate vice president for Research
Perumal comes to UNM from South Dakota State University (SDSU) where he spent the last 18 years of his academic career. He has served as department head of pharmaceutical sciences, graduate program coordinator, director of two multidisciplinary research centers, and most recently as the associate dean for research.
“What I truly appreciate about working in academia is the opportunity to wear multiple hats as instructor, mentor, researcher, and administrator. However, the most rewarding aspect is the privilege to teach and mentor students, aiding them in reaching their full potential,” Perumal said.
It’s the mentors, teachers, and colleagues, Perumal recalls, that played a crucial role in shaping his very own interest in academia and within the field of pharmaceutical sciences.
“Growing up in India, my father, a pharmacist and small drug manufacturing business owner, introduced me to the field of pharmacy. However, it was through the guidance and support of my teachers and mentors that my passion for the pharmacy profession was nurtured, emphasizing the significance of education and lifelong learning,” he said.
Located in the south region of the country, Perumal was born and raised in Madurai, India. Madurai is known as the "Athens of the East" and is famous for its ancient temples. The city itself is nearly 2,500 years old and serves as a major tourist attraction. To this day, Perumal’s parents reside in the city.
Perumal pursued his secondary education in pharmaceutical sciences and completed his bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees in India. Education, and the ability to learn something new every single day, is something Perumal does not take lightly.
“Every day, I actively seek out opportunities to acquire new knowledge and insights, whether it pertains to scientific discoveries, understanding human behavior, or exploring various general subjects. Just like a cup of coffee in the morning, learning energizes and invigorates me,” Perumal said.
Perumal’s career in research focuses on drug delivery systems, specifically in the pursuit of innovative methods to ensure the precise administration of medications, targeting the appropriate dose to the intended site at the optimal time. Over the years, Perumal’s research endeavors have contributed to the advancement of drug delivery systems, ultimately enhancing treatment outcomes, patient compliance, and overall therapeutic efficacy. In return, Perumal’s research has led to several patents on drug delivery systems.
Though Perumal has many research highlights throughout his career worth celebrating, he says one project holds great personal significance – the establishment of the Haarberg Center for Drug, Disease, and Delivery at SDSU. Perumal said the initial goal was to create a collaborative framework that brought together academia, industry, and clinical partners to develop novel therapies for cancer and other diseases. Just last year, the center received an $11.5 million estate gift, ensuring the long-term sustainability and continuity of the research center.
“While I thoroughly enjoyed my time at SDSU, I am seeking a new challenge that would allow me to utilize my passion for fostering multidisciplinary research teams and supporting individual and collective success,” Perumal said. “This led me to the opportunity of joining UNM as the associate vice president for research. The role at UNM aligns perfectly with my experience and enthusiasm for advancing and supporting research at the university level, as well as assisting individuals and teams in achieving their goals.”
Perumal’s term will begin July 1. The AVPR said there were several key aspects that attracted him to UNM, but one attribute that stands out is the University's dedication to its people.
“My leadership philosophy revolves around a comprehensive framework that places emphasis on people, programs, and processes,” Perumal said. “UNM places a strong emphasis on fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion, all of which are crucially important. However, the fundamental value of feeling included resonates deeply with me.”
“We are all excited to bring Om on board the OVPR at UNM, as he will bring a fresh perspective and outstanding research credentials to our operation." - Ellen Fisher, UNM vice president for research
That’s why Perumal said it’s important to him to spend the first few months establishing connections and building relationships with individuals across the university.
“I am truly inspired by UNM's commitment to fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. It reaffirms my belief in the importance of creating an environment where every individual’s unique perspective and experience are respected and celebrated. I am excited to join the UNM community, knowing that this shared value of inclusion is not only a slogan but a lived reality,” he said.
Perumal’s quest to learn something new each day does not end when he closes the door to his laboratory. He’s always open to discovering a new bike path during a New Mexico Sandia sunset, and when he gets the chance to cook, it will be fusion dishes of Indian cuisine with aromas that fill the air in his home with his wife and two sons.