In March of this year, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) conferred the Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) designation on The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). The IEP program provides a mechanism for institutions of higher education to better know, measure, tell, and enhance their economic and community development impact. The IEP award recognizes institutions that demonstrate substantive, sustainable, and campus-wide commitment to and strategy for regional economic engagement, growth, and economic prosperity.
The application process was spearheaded by Rod McSherry, UTSA associate vice president for innovation and economic development and Tom Tunstall, senior research director at UTSA’s Institute for Economic Development. Steering committee members included Elvira Leal, assistant vice president for strategic initiatives; Roger Enriquez, executive director, Westside Community Partnerships; Bruce Rudy, faculty director of the Center for Professional Excellence in the Carlos Alvarez College of Business; Maria Alejandro, program director at the Center for Civic Engagement; Siobhan Fleming, director for research development in the UTSA Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise; Angela Griffith, vice provost for academic operations and strategic initiatives; and Ginnifer Cie Gee, associate vice provost for Career Engagement Learning and director of UTSA’s Quality Enhancement Plan.
The road to the IEP designation for UTSA began in February 2020 at an APLU workshop hosted by Wichita State University, a fellow IEP designation aspirant at the time. Along with other cohort universities, participants were introduced to the APLU’s Commission on Economic and Community Engagement (CECE) framework to help university leadership plan, assess, and communicate their institutions’ work on local and regional economic development.
UTSA’s application for the IEP designation begins by articulating the university’s definitions of innovation and economic prosperity.
Innovation comprises the development of interdisciplinary and highly collaborative products, processes, services, technologies, organizational or business models that support and inform community stakeholders, which consist of markets, government and society. These goals are accomplished by strengthening education, workforce development, technology transfer into practice, entrepreneurship, applied research, community engagement, and expanding our significant international presence.
Economic prosperity is defined as the key element to quality of life by strengthening business and other organizations, creating high-value sustainable jobs, and encouraging economic investment, as well as encompassing activity not necessarily captured by gross output or domestic product measures such as non-profit and volunteer activities. Economic prosperity identifies a robust set of community assets that include not only financial, but also built, human, social, political, natural, and cultural capital.
Achieving the IEP designation will complement UTSA’s Carnegie R1 and Community Engagement Classifications, as well as a recently completed economic impact analysis of the university demonstrating a nearly $2.5 billion impact on the San Antonio Metro area in 2021.
The IEP application consists of eight main sections: an introductory narrative, self-study process experience, details regarding the economic engagement enterprise, economic engagement planning, promotion and communication, advancing university economic engagement, summary of accomplishments, and a growth and improvement plan.
A critical element concerning the IEP designation is the university’s outward-facing efforts to engage the larger community. Also important is the degree to which the entire institution embraces and assimilates the goals and objectives of innovation and economic prosperity. Leadership involvement at the highest levels of UTSA is driving the vision of a regionally engaged university with socioeconomic benefit that has a special emphasis on building Hispanic thriving communities.
The IEP application highlighted several key components of UTSA’s accomplishments. These include its strengths in areas such as cybersecurity, information and communication technology, biohealth, industrial technologies, energy and sustainable communities, converging technology areas, and talent connections. Recent successes include the opening of the National Security Collaboration Center and School of Data Science, the multi-institutional Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CyManII) – which UTSA leads – and the evolving Innovation Hub Network to be co-located at UTSA’s Main Campus, Downtown Campus, and Port San Antonio.
The APLU IEP designation represents a significant milestone for UTSA. Implementation of the APLU CECE framework will pave the way for even greater regional innovation and collaborative successes in the future of this still-young university.