By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Few people would describe the nation's capital as a college town. Yet higher education is the second-largest industry in the District, after the federal government, and its acclaimed campuses are home to some of the country's acknowledged experts on -- just about everything.
Whether designing a life support system for Mars, mobilizing international support for African development or exploring detective fiction, many professors in the District's college classrooms are leaders in their fields. Some are also using their expertise to discourage D.C. youth from smoking, improve the city's drinking water and help some of its neediest find employment.
"The intellectual capital our universities bring is so valuable," said Barbara B. Lang, president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, whose board chairman is Stephen J. Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University. "We often overlook their value and what they and their faculties bring to the table."
Universities account for five of the top 20 private-sector employers in the city, with George Washington and Georgetown heading the list, according to the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
But Stephen Fuller, an economist who is professor of public policy at George Mason University in Northern Virginia, said higher education is overshadowed by the federal government and the hospitality industry and tends to be an "orphan" when the economic strength of the city and the region is assessed.
"The District is loaded with universities," he said, noting that they and health institutions generate employment and lure visitors, and "are big players of regional and even national and international importance."
Featured here are more than a dozen prominent faculty members from several D.C.-based schools of higher education -- leaders in their fields, selected from names and specialties submitted to The Washington Post by the universities. This is by no means a definitive presentation of stellar scholarship, but merely a sample of the wide-ranging academic expertise available at local colleges and universities.
Besides Georgetown and GWU, and the University of the District of Columbia -- the city's local public institution -- Washington is home to academic centers that include American, Catholic, Gallaudet, Howard, Southeastern and Trinity universities.