UNM Rainforest Innovations

UNM one of six finalists

Washington, DC – The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named six public research institutions as finalists for its sixth annual Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) University Awards. The winners will be announced at the association’s annual meeting, which will be held November 11-13 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The finalists — Colorado State University, Iowa State University, Montana State University, the University of New Mexico, North Carolina State University, and the University of Pittsburgh — are competing for four different awards that recognize different components of university economic engagement:

  • Colorado State University and North Carolina State University are finalists for the IEP Talent award, recognizing exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.
  • Iowa State University and the University of Pittsburgh are finalists for the IEP Innovation award, recognizing exemplary initiatives spurring innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology-based economic development.
  • Montana State University and University of New Mexico are finalists for the IEP Place award for exemplary initiatives resulting in social, cultural, or community development.
  • The IEP Economic Engagement Connections award is the top prize in the awards competition, recognizing overall excellence and leveraging across all three award categories. All six category finalists are contenders for the Connections award.

As described in APLU’s Economic Engagement Framework, a series of tools and publications that helps institutions plan, assess, and communicate their work in economic engagement, universities collaborate with their public and private sector partners in their states and regions to promote economic growth, competitiveness and opportunity through a variety of efforts across the aforementioned categories.

“We applaud this year’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Awards finalists for their exceptional contributions to regional economic engagement,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Economic development and community engagement cut to the heart of public universities’ mission to advance the communities they serve. We’re delighted to spotlight the work of the finalists so other institutions can build upon the example they have set.”

To be eligible for an IEP award, an institution must first earn the Innovation and Economic Prosperity University designation from APLU.  To receive that designation, universities conduct a rigorous self-study of their economic engagement activities that includes input from external stakeholders. As part of the self-study, each institution identifies areas for growth and improvement within its economic engagement enterprise and developed an improvement plan. This work demonstrated a commitment to continuous learning and improvement in this kind of engagement vital to universities and their regional partners. Sixty-four institutions have been named IEP Universities designees since the program was launched in 2012.

More information on the finalists’ economic engagement initiatives is below.

Colorado State University (CSU) has worked to significantly broaden the geographic reach of its workforce development impact in recent years. CSU has expanded a network of statewide engagement hubs that supplement current work underway through Extension offices. The university has created Campus Connections, a campus-based mentoring program pairing CSU student mentors with at-risk youth in the area. The students work one-on-one with the children, who range in age from 11 to 18, to tackle challenges facing the youth. As part of the program, CSU students enroll in a three-credit course centered on mentoring literature. The students then spend four hours each week providing academic help, career planning, and goal setting. In addition to helping at-risk youth overcome challenges and develop key skills, the program helps CSU students develop indispensable leadership skills. To help ensure the program’s success, the university engages a wide range of community stakeholders, from local school districts to Department of Human Services to judges in area juvenile courts. Since its inception, the program has served 2,250 youth and engaged 2,700 CSU students.

Iowa State University (ISU) has created a vibrant startup culture at the institution. Innovations at ISU span a broad range of areas – from technology to food production, material sciences to advanced manufacturing. Yet after the university identified a need to bolster its innovation infrastructure in 2016, it launched its Startup Factory program. The effort is an intense yearlong accelerator program aimed at helping budding startups take off. It also supports entrepreneurs with coursework covering business legal structures, design thinking, risk management, and marketing, among other subject areas. What’s more, student entrepreneurs enrolled in the program have access to a mentoring network that provides board-meeting simulations that help students gain experience providing reports on their progress and being held accountable for meeting challenging deadlines. To date, 53 companies have gained experience through the program. Forty-four of those companies are still active in areas such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, agriculture, and software development.

Montana State University created the Fort Peck Nursing Project to provide health care to underserved individuals living on the Fort Peck Reservation. Four-hundred and fifty miles from Bozeman, the reservation is isolated from critical health care services despite an array of health care-related challenges facing the community. To help fill health care gaps, each year roughly 50 Montana State nursing students in their junior year travel to the reservation to serve weeklong stints providing services to the Native American populations on the reservation. In addition to providing primary health care, the students give preventative health care guidance on issues such as nutrition, mental health, and dental hygiene. The students are immersed in Assiniboine and Sioux tribe cultures as they provide in-school care, make home visits, and participate in events. Since the start of the program in 2010, more than 300 nursing students have had over 14,000 patient interactions – not only providing essential health care to underserved populations, but also helping the students gain vital experience of working with patients of other cultural backgrounds.

University of New Mexico (UNM), through its technology-transfer and economic-development arm, STC.UNM (STC), created the Lobo Rainforest Building at Innovate ABQ to help support research and innovation on campus. Innovate ABQ is a public-private partnership between UNM, Nusenda Credit Union, the City of Albuquerque, and Bernalillo County that created an innovation district in the city. The Lobo Rainforest Building is located close to UNM and downtown Albuquerque, near a variety of businesses, incubators, and one of the city’s rapid transit lines. The six-story building provides collaboration and co-working spaces supporting student entrepreneurial activities and public-private ventures and events, as well as student housing for 310 students who are enrolled in UNM’s Innovation Academy. The Lobo Rainforest Building is a human innovation ecosystem, housing STC’s offices and UNM’s startup incubator, the Cecchi Venture Lab. Fifteen startups are located in the building, as well as the offices of  two of the state’s national labs—Sandia National Laboratories and the Air Force Research Laboratory-New Mexico—and General Atomics, a global engineering firm and defense contractor. General Atomics has its first physical presence in Albuquerque in the building.  The building currently has a 100% occupancy rate.

North Carolina State University’s Graduate School launched the Accelerate to Industry program in early 2018 to improve the match between NC State graduate students, alumni, and businesses. The program aims to expose students to a wide range of potential industry careers, help the students secure jobs, foster stronger connections between the university and the private sector, and retain top talent in North Carolina, among other goals. Accelerate to Industry helps graduate students develop entrepreneurial skills such as leadership, communication, and cross-disciplinary work – all of which are essential to success in the private sector, but not always fully developed through traditional coursework in which teams of students work across disciplines to tackle industry-defined problems. Since launching earlier this year, 150 students, postdocs, and alumni have participated in the program’s activities. After leaving the program, students have reported enhanced employment opportunities. The university’s approach has now taken root at the University of Arkansas and University of Florida campuses. NC State is hoping to recruit 30 university partners by 2020, including Historical Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

The University of Pittsburgh’s (Pitt) Office of Economic Partnership worked with the Brookings Institution to conduct a study of the City of Pittsburgh’s innovation capacity and develop a plan to help Pittsburgh become one 30 most innovative cities in the world. Since the study was published in late 2017, the university has worked to realize the comprehensive vision laid out in the report. Pitt recently purchased the former Alleghany County Health Department Building to develop it as an innovation hub where students and researchers can work alongside thriving companies. The university also recently announced it will create a mixed-use research facility hosting its new Immune Transplant and Therapy Center. The center will be supported with $200 million research investment to help researchers translate their findings into solutions that help patients increase their quality of life and life expectancy. The new project is one of a host of innovation hubs the university is launching across the city to support path breaking research and business development.

APLU is a research, policy, and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  With a membership of 238 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations, APLU’s agenda is built on the three pillars of increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research, and expanding engagement.   Annually, member campuses enroll 4.8 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.2 million degrees, employ 1.3 million faculty and staff, and conduct $44.9 billion in university-based research.  www.aplu.org

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