As part of its ongoing effort to help member institutions magnify their economic impact, APLU recently announced finalists for its 2020 Innovation & Economic Prosperity University Awards. The awards honor institutions performing exemplary work to advance the economic wellbeing of their states, regions, and the nation through a variety of efforts. In this post, APLU spotlights University of Memphis and Iowa State University as finalists in the “Place” IEP Awards category, recognizing exemplary initiatives resulting in social, cultural, or community development. One of the finalists will be named the Place category award winner during the APLU Annual Meeting.
Mississippi State University has taken a multipronged approach to driving economic development in its region. Home to one of the fastest supercomputers at any U.S.-based academic institution, the university is undertaking research to achieve major strides in weather and climate modeling, autonomous systems, advanced materials, cybersecurity, and computational modeling.
The university’s Thad Cochran Research, Technology, and Economic Development Park hosts public-private, federal and state research partnerships leveraging leading faculty and researchers. The research park is home to the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, which works closely with the state’s auto manufacturing industry to spur innovations in autonomous systems and advanced materials research and development. The park hosts over 1,500 employees working at businesses, startup companies, and government offices, representing more than $100 million in private capital investment. In addition to working with established companies, the research park and Mississippi State University’s Center of Entrepreneurship and Outreach offers critical co-creating and co-working spaces for early-stage companies created by students and faculty. The university’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center, meanwhile, works to spark economic development and revival in small communities throughout the state. The center hosts students, architects, and city planners who work with communities to provide visioning, grant writing, feasibility studies, and design seminars in each of the state’s 82 counties.
This August, the university marked the opening of the Starkville-Oktibbeha School District-MSU Partnership School, an on-campus middle school that will serve all sixth and seventh grade students in the local school district and will be used to train future educators. The innovative school will help recruit personnel to MSU and the region, as well as serve as a center for research in curriculum, teaching and learning to address real-world education problems with a focus on the unique challenges of rural schools.
The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) has made its partnerships in and with the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood a centerpiece of its place-based community and economic engagement strategy. Pitt has taken a multifaceted approach to cultivating talent in Homewood, promoting innovation, and creating an environment fostering economic prosperity through its 20,000 square foot neighborhood-based Community Engagement Center and associated programs at the Manufacturing Assistance Center, BioShelter, and K12 outreach. Building on long-standing involvement in Homewood by various faculty and schools, Pitt made a long-term institutional commitment to partner the breadth of its engagement assets, across all 16 schools and various business units, with community-based partners to pursue impact and opportunities for the residents of Homewood for the next 25 years.
Some example outcomes include: Pitt’s School of Social Work partnering with community organizations and the three neighborhood schools to provide holistic support to students and their families; Pitt’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence offering a six-month counseling and training program which has graduated 50 entrepreneurs in Homewood and provided consulting services to 21 area businesses since 2017; and the School of Education’s Justice Scholars Program, which has enrolled more than 40 high school students into college bearing classes, qualitative research experiences, and service-learning opportunities all focused on social justice. The effort has also brought a bioshelter to Homewood, offering a DC microgrid and hydroponic food growing initiative and a manufacturing career training center that trains 80 individuals to become machinists each year with a 95 percent job placement rate. Guided by a Neighborhood Advisory Council and a visible, long-term commitment of partnerships, the University of Pittsburgh’s work in Homewood is an exemplar of equitable community and economic engagement.