Engineering UD's Future
Heading toward his junior year as the president, Pat Harker is forming partnerships that will give the school an international reputation. (If it can just get its hands on that Chrysler plant…)
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“It’s clear that universities will have to have a greater impact on the fortunes of their communities and the nation,” says David Weir, director of UD’s Office of Economic Innovation & Partnerships. “There’s the concern that, otherwise, innovation and entrepreneurship could falter.”
OEIP, which began last summer, is emblematic of Harker’s bid to extend the university’s influence. Dubbed “Delaware Gateway,” the office serves as a kind of incubator to assess and secure university-based and outside inventions, and to convert them into marketable enterprises. Most projects, usually quite technical in nature (high-efficiency solar cells, biomarkers to detect cancer), are funded by federal research grants. University partners range from start-up companies to leading corporations to the federal government.
“It adds to the reputation of the institution and can be a source of revenue,” says Weir, a former top manager at DuPont who holds a doctorate in chemical physics.
Weir had been director of Delaware Biotechnology Institute, which he launched in 2001 and grew into a force for research and economic development. Joining government, industry and academia, it is located, aptly, on Innovation Way in Delaware Technology Park on the edge of campus, a neighbor to one of three UD Small Business Development Centers. (The others are in Wilmington and Georgetown.) Since the SBDC helps OEIP in spurring start-ups, the nexus is clear—and potentially powerful.
“The office will strengthen our participation as a partner in the economic development of the state and region,” Harker said when he introduced OEIP in March 2008. “A chief goal is to enhance economic prosperity and quality of life.”
The quality of life on campus is very much on the president’s mind. An ex-football player from the University of Pennsylvania, he endorses an athletics plan that calls for expanded intramurals and recreation, “highly competitive” varsity sports, a balanced perspective for the student-athlete, and equal opportunity on the playing field for men and women.
Athletes or not, UD students have become increasingly less parochial. In an effort to further diversify the student body, the admissions staff has hit the road west—additional overseas student exchange programs are on the drawing board.
Increased diversity, however, will not affect the privately chartered, state-assisted university’s commitment to Delawareans. In-state applicants who fail to meet standards for either the school’s four-year or two-year program (typically 10 percent) often reapply and transfer after spending two years at Delaware Tech. The 90 percent accepted the first time around are benefiting from enhanced financial support, despite a shrinking endowment and reduced state aid. (Thank you, Wall Street.)
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