APLU extends UArizona's 'Innovation and Economic Prosperity University' designation

Old Main building on the University of Arizona campus

The University of Arizona Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives recently launched Project LISTO, which aims to introduce Hispanic students to STEM-related majors and future job opportunities and provides a framework for Hispanic-Serving Institutions in Arizona and other states to do the same.

Chris Richards / University Communications

In recognition of its commitment to regional economic prosperity, the University of Arizona has been given a five-year extension of its designation as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

The university was first awarded the designation in 2015. APLU recently announced that UArizona is one of 16 schools to be granted a five-year extension.

"The designation and the recent extension illustrate what many in Arizona already know about this amazing university," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins.

"So much of what we accomplish – from our physical campuses across the state to our online instruction to the Cooperative Extension locations in every Arizona county – has strong ties to our land-grant mission," Robbins said. "While our impact is global, our first priority is always to serve the people of Arizona." 

The IEP program aims to help designees "know, measure, and tell the story of" their economic engagement in three areas: talent and workforce development; innovation, entrepreneurship and technology-based economic development; and place development through public service, outreach, extension and community engagement.

The university excels in all three areas, according to Elliott Cheu, interim senior vice president for research and innovation. This designation, he said, is a testament to the regional relationships and collaborations that have been fostered for years with the goal of improving the quality of life for all Arizonans.

"Together, we're more impactful in our efforts to enhance university-level research and innovation, promote public-private partnerships, retain graduating students in our region and develop a skilled workforce," Cheu said.

"While IEP awards academic institutions, the University of Arizona could not have won the designation without strong partnerships and invaluable relationships," said Greg Hitt, research associate for economic development and community-engaged research in the Office of Research, Innovation and Impact.

Hitt considers the collaboration among the university, Pima Community College and Caterpillar on the School of Mining and Mineral Resources' recertification process for professionals to be a prime example of talent and workforce development. It allows mechanics from PCC to communicate directly with Caterpillar engineers on how to work through challenges or possibly improve the user experience.

Similar bonds exist in pursuit of economic development among UArizona's innovation-centric units, such as Arizona FORGE, Tech Launch Arizona and Tech Parks Arizona with the city of Tucson, Pima County and the Arizona Commerce Authority.

"Pima County is proud to have the University of Arizona as such a reliable and innovative partner in economic development, and we are extremely pleased the university has yet again received its Innovation and Economic Prosperity designation," said Heath Vescovi-Chiordi, director of economic development for Pima County. "The innovation, support and investment, as well as the collaboration in partnership with our land-grant university, has been tremendous, yielding great benefit to our region. We look forward to continuing work with this institution, and ensuring the continued economic growth, resilience and vitality of our communities."

One example of place development through public service, outreach, extension and community engagement is the collaboration between the UArizona Center for Controlled Environment Agriculture and Cruz Farm in Douglas.

"Cruz Farm representatives will be taking two intensive courses from CEAC, and our researchers will visit the farm to determine what kind of intensive agriculture might support their needs," Hitt said. "It's all about planting seeds together now for mutual opportunity, which hopefully will lead to external funding and other benefits down the road."

Over the course of the five-year extension, the university plans to address a significant challenge: translating short-term interactions into longer-term relationships rooted in institutional memory. While UArizona students, faculty and staff collaborate with community members every year to accomplish specific projects, the benefits tend to end when the projects do, Hitt said. He wants to better capture and grow those larger, long-term connections.

"The IEP designation shows we're serious about investing in strategy and processes that take the good things we have going here in Tucson to a whole other level of sustainability and expansion," he said.

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