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APLU Names Six Public Universities as Finalists for 2020 Innovation & Economic Prosperity Universities Awards

Washington, D.C.— The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named six universities as finalists for its eighth annual Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) University Awards.

The winners will be announced during the association’s virtual annual meeting. The finalists – California State University, Northridge; Iowa State University; University of Memphis; Mississippi State University; University of Pittsburgh; and Purdue University – are competing for four different awards that recognize exemplary and innovative case studies of economic engagement impact:

  • California State University, Northridge and Purdue University are finalists for the IEP Talent award, recognizing exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.
  • The University of Memphis and the Iowa State University are finalists for the IEP Innovation award, recognizing exemplary initiatives spurring innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology-based economic development.
  • Mississippi State University and University of Pittsburgh are finalists for the IEP Place award for exemplary initiatives resulting in social, cultural, or community development.

All six universities are finalists for the IEP Economic Engagement Connections award, which is the top-prize in the awards competition, recognizing overall excellence and leveraging across all three award categories.

As defined by APLU’s Economic Engagement Framework – a series of tools and publications that helps institutions better know, measure, 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. “As the country looks to recover from one of the steepest economic downturns on record, universities will have to play a central role in helping drive innovation, spark growth, and foster broadly shared prosperity. The IEP Award finalists are in a strong position to do exactly that.”

To be eligible for an IEP award, an institution must first earn the Innovation and Economic Prosperity University (IEP) designation from APLU which recognizes institutional commitment to regional economic development.

To earn the IEP 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 demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning and improvement in this kind of engagement vital to universities and their regional partners.

Sixty-six institutions have been named IEP Universities designees since the program was launched in 2012.

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

Seeking to diversify the biomedical research workforce, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) established the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) program in 2014 with support from the National Institutes of Health. The effort seeks to cultivate talent and address health inequities through education, research, and community engagement. Students and mentors develop research questions, methods, interpretations, and applications through critical race theory, providing a framework for critically investigating how legal, educational, and now, healthcare systems reproduce and normalize racism in society. Students begin with a Summer JumpStart program to orient them to the ethical and technical aspects of biomedical research, take advanced research methods and professional development courses, and participate in summer research training opportunities. CSUN has also formed the Health Equity Research and Education Center to support faculty members and postdoctoral scholars who mentor undergraduate researchers. BUILD has supported and trained nearly 200 students and over 100 faculty mentors who work together on mutual biomedical research projects and present their work at professional conferences. Students originate from CSUN as well as four community college pipeline partners, including East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles Valley College, Los Angeles Pierce College, and Pasadena City College.

Iowa State University (ISU) has placed cultivating entrepreneurship and innovation at the heart of its economic engagement and development efforts. ISU has a host of programs centered on entrepreneurship, including an undergraduate major and minor, graduate certificate and Ph.D. program in the discipline, as well as experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom and venture creation and small business support. To help create a flourishing manufacturing industry in Iowa, the university’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) provides services to strengthen businesses, working primarily in seven industries that comprise half of Iowa’s economy. Amid the growing pandemic in March 2020, CIRAS identified companies with complementary capabilities to design, create, and produce desperately needed Personal Protective Equipment such as face shields. Within weeks, the joint venture was producing more than 150,000 units a week. The Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship is at the crossroads of the university’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, providing a wide array of experiential and competitive learning opportunities and the tools and resources necessary to build and improve Iowa businesses. To date, 177 students have gained consulting experience through the CyBIZ Lab interdisciplinary student consulting program and 50 student ventures have participated in the CYstarters summer accelerator program. ISU has also launched a state-of-the-art Student Innovation Center, creating a hands-on hub for students to collaborate, design, build, and test their ideas.

The University of Memphis has worked to promote innovation in the Memphis region with a multi-faceted approach to economic development that encourages novel engagements with our faculty, students and community. Through the establishment of corporations, the launching of a research park that emphasizes helping young companies based in Memphis, and programs to build the deep science entrepreneurship in the city, the University of Memphis is promoting economic development that embraces innovation, talent and place. The university’s motto of “Driven by Doing” is present throughout the projects that comprise their application and status as a finalist in the innovation category. Innovative partnerships with industry represented throughout their case studies have helped to fill gaps in the landscape, positively impact the lives of hundreds of students, and has brought millions in investment to campus and the city.

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.

To help improve college readiness and cultivate diversity in STEM disciplines, Purdue University opened its first location of Purdue Polytechnic High School (PPHS) in 2017. PPHS takes a radically different approach to high school education. They’ve replaced the traditional high school model with a personalized, flexible schedule that allows each student to learn at their own pace and competency-based education in which students are always encouraged to improve and grow. In order to provide students with real-world experience and early career exposure, PPHS, in tandem with local industry leaders like Subaru, Salesforce, and Eskanazi, created industry projects. These projects include a field visit to an industry partner site where students learn about the challenges partners are trying to solve and support and mentorship throughout the project cycle. Students then go back to school, armed with real-world experience, mentorship and the design-thinking process to solve one of the very real challenges facing industry today. Aimed at sparking their curiosity and building collaborative skills, the instructional approach allows students to pursue passion projects in which they have choice and voice in how they apply their knowledge and skills. Students work with personalized learning coaches and classmates who advise them on their goals and work. Purdue University also helps train teachers at the high school to facilitate college-level courses that help place students on track for academic success when they reach college. Graduates from Purdue Polytechnic High School score significantly better than benchmarked peers on college readiness assessments. Students in their junior year meeting Purdue University admissions criteria are invited to live on campus for a least one week over the summer to earn college credit and get a taste of the college experience. Building on this model, Purdue Polytechnic High School opened its second Indianapolis campus in 2019 and its third campus in South Bend in August of 2020.

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