The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities has named Ohio University a finalist for the third annual Innovation & Economic Prosperity University Awards Program.
Alongside schools like Auburn University, Clemson University and the University of Minnesota, OU is one of the six public research institutions APLU has recognized as advancing the economic well-being of its local communities through economic development.
The awards will be announced at APLU’s annual meeting on Nov. 17.
“Public research universities have a core responsibility to take their wide array of expertise and put it to work in their region by helping to grow businesses, strengthen the economy and advance society,” said APLU’s President Peter McPherson in a press release by APLU. “The six institutions that are finalists for the 2015 APLU Innovation & Economic Prosperity University Awards Program have all demonstrated a clear commitment to economic engagement and have followed through by delivering results.”
OU is competing for both the Place Award and Connections Award. The Place Award honors a university that excels in community, social and cultural development work, while the Connections Award distinguishes an institution with outstanding initiatives in all aspects of innovation and economic prosperity, according to APLU’s website.
“We did something a little different,” Laura Myers, chief of staff for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said. “We kind of turned (the Place Award category) on its head, and we said we are not going to create a place, but our place creates us.”
“When applying for the IEP University Awards, Ohio University highlighted recent projects qualifying them for the Place and Connections Awards,” Vice President Dr. Joseph Shields of Research and Creative Activity at OU said in an email.
“We showcased three examples, consisting of our infrastructure for launching startup companies, our expansion of the Heritage College (of Osteopathic Medicine)… and our launch of the Innovation Strategy to promote interdisciplinary approaches for major problems that challenge our region and society more broadly,” Shields said.
According to the Innovation Strategy Interim Report, published in September 2014, OU has developed the Innovation Strategy over the past two years to provide funding for interdisciplinary projects to increase innovation and collaboration across colleges to better serve Appalachian Ohio.
“One part of the Innovation Strategy is the Innovation Fund, which will be an annual process for individual researchers or scholars or even administrators and staff to submit proposals for new innovative ideas,” Myers said. “This is very much an intentional program by the provost to take these monies and invest in very promising ideas that are coming up from the faculty and students.”
Myers also emphasized that the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a top producer of primary care physicians. Its expansion to include campuses in Dublin and Cleveland ultimately created “one medical school for three communities.” The goal was to listen to what community members wanted and try to match that.
“There are some things we can’t change, but try to meet the needs the best we can is most helpful to the people we are serving,” Myers said.
APLU identified the OU Innovation Center, which helps launch startup businesses, as one of the key roles to OU’s award designation. According to Associate Director of the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem branch, Stacy Strauss, the OUIC has generated nearly 200 companies and 2,000 jobs since opening its doors in 1983.
According to the 2014 Economic Analysis, OUIC created an estimated 140 jobs in Athens County. These jobs generated an about $6.1 million in labor income, up from 123 jobs and $4.4 million in labor income in 2013.
According to Shields, Ohio University is “currently in the process of identifying new areas for targeted investment in research and innovation more broadly.” Future success of the Innovation Strategy will benefit economic prosperity in the community through the continuation of interdisciplinary collaborations between faculty and students.
“As we were researching and writing about these case studies, it just made me really proud of what we do,” Myers said. “I mean we don’t do everything right every day, but we do really good stuff here.”