State of the University Address 2014 - Innovation Campus

An integral component of our research agenda is the continued development of Innovation Campus. The first two buildings are now complete. The conference center, in what was formerly the 4-H Building, is designed both as an amenity for the partners we hope to attract to the campus but also as a facility for the rest of the University and the public at large. In a very real way, it will continue the legacy of the building for showcasing what is best in Nebraska.

The Food Innovation Center and the Greenhouse Innovation Center are now under construction and scheduled to be completed by this time next year. This construction will facilitate our partnership with ConAgra and has led to our effort to develop an Advanced Sanitation Alliance among major food producers. The Alliance’s first meeting included representatives from, in addition to ConAgra, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, Johnsonville, Cargill, Neogen and Ecolabs.

While our visible investments to this point are in food science, Innovation Campus remains open to all disciplines and it is likely our next partners will not be from the food industry. I see no limit on which disciplines can engage with private sector companies on Innovation Campus.

We often underestimate the contributions a variety of disciplines can make to particular business sectors. For example, we have learned through our limited engagement that a major food processor can face issues for which a wide variety of disciplines might offer solutions. Certainly engineering and our material science faculty could play a major role in addressing issues of sanitation, food safety, and processing efficiency. But the Psychology Department, and perhaps other social science based units, can help food companies address how to align their products with the sensory responses to food by consumers. As the world of food becomes more global, the humanities can help food producers align their products with the cultural and historical traditions of the communities they serve. Food producers face significant regulatory and public relations issues that could benefit from engagement with a wide variety of disciplines. And, of course, production of food is essentially one application of chemistry, physics, and the life sciences.

We are also developing a unique space on Innovation Campus that can become the spark for innovation among all of our faculty and students. The Design Innovation Studio will be a place where individuals will be able to make stuff. That’s about as elegant as I can put it. It will consist of a variety of tools, from woodworking to welding, from 3-D printing to a culinary kitchen. Once trained on the equipment, any individual can make whatever they want. The expectation is that makers both from those working on innovation campus and the broader community will bump into each other and innovation will occur. I am grateful to Shane Farritor on the Faculty Advisory Committee who proposed and has pursued this project.

I want to comment that behind the scenes all of this campus activity has significantly increased the work load of the Division of Business and Finance, whose staff has been asked to do more with fewer resources. I am indebted to them and to Vice Chancellor Jackson.