Finally, let me make a few comments on Innovation Campus. In a week we will have its “grand opening”. It seems like we’ve been talking about it for a long time, but the reality is that land development and building construction are far from quick processes. In studying other such developments, we know that success is best assured if there is a strong, initial university presence on the property. The Centennial Campus at North Carolina State, one of the models we tried to follow, became successful only after it moved selected academic units to the development. We have imitated that approach with food science and technology — focusing on an area that is one of our comparative advantages and with a department that has a long history of engagement with the private sector. I hope you will all have an opportunity to tour the Food Innovation Center. It is a state-of-the-art facility unmatched anywhere in the world. We have benefited in its design and construction from the full engagement of the food science faculty, the invaluable assistance from ConAgra Foods, and the willingness of IANR to make critical investments. It has enhanced the work environment for our food science faculty and, accordingly, has significantly increased our expectations for their achievements.
Our challenge now is to fully exploit this facility as well as the opportunities it creates for the entire university. Food science is broad enough to include a wide segment of disciplines at the university. Providing food for consumption is a major industry. It is an industry, in part life-sustaining, and in part entertainment. It is both art and science. It depends on the physical sciences for production and the human sciences for consumption. It is difficult to think of a discipline that could not participate if we set out to claim “food science” as a best of class feature of this university. Indeed, I might even consider teaching “food law” when I return to the law college!
Accordingly, vice chancellor Green and I, working with the deans, intend to create an interdisciplinary task force, with members from all colleges, to explore how the various disciplines do, or could, impact the production and consumption of food. We will be reaching out to local as well as national expertise for assistance. There is significant potential here to collaborate with the medical center and to engage President Bounds’ system-wide initiative on food security and health. My hope is that the task force could not only describe existing opportunities but also to think creatively about how we might create a campuswide national center of innovation for the food industries. And when the food task force completes its task, I promise I will buy them dinner, if, of course, they report while I’m still chancellor.
More significantly, the world seems to be moving in our direction. There is increased recognition that feeding a growing world population is a global problem of enormous dimensions, not only with the obvious impact on human life but also in terms of world stability. And, the nexus between food, water and energy is rising as part of the nation’s research agenda. In its fiscal year 2016 budget request, the NSF seeks to initiate the INFEWS program: Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems. With our investments in food on Innovation Campus, the Daugherty Water for Food Institute, and the Nebraska Energy Center funded by NPPD, no university is better positioned to take advantage of this initiative.
But Innovation Campus should be more than just a set of new buildings on the former state fair grounds. It should energize and infect the entire campus with the spirit of innovation, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship. I again salute the faculty advisory committee that is pushing us to exploit this potential. The “maker space”, now Innovation Studio, has captured the imagination of our student body and the larger community.
We are exploring, again at the faculty’s suggestion, an “innovation curriculum” that could prepare students in all disciplines to approach life with a better understanding of how innovation occurs and how they might contribute to that process.
I believe the next 15 years mark an opportunity for us to build some areas where we are the acknowledged leader in the world. I believe Innovation Campus has the potential to invigorate the economy of Nebraska. More importantly, however, I believe it has the potential to refashion the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.