Montana State University

MSU named Innovation and Economic Prosperity University

August 31, 2016 -- By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

A Montana State University engineering student works with silicon wafers in the Montana Microfabrication Facility. Facilities like this are frequently used by the Optical Technology Center, or OpTeC, one area that was central to MSU earning a recent designation as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN — One of the nation's top higher education associations has recognized Montana State University for leadership in fostering economic growth, prosperity and innovation.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) named MSU an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University, a designation that recognizes the university's strong commitment to economic engagement and its work with public and private sector partners in Montana and the region.

MSU is one of only six universities from across the nation to earn the designation this year.

“We are delighted to receive recognition from the oldest university association in the U.S. for our strong commitment to economic engagement,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado. “As a land-grant institution, Montana State University works very hard to foster economic growth, and this designation is strong validation of this important work.”

“Public research universities such as Montana State University serve as economic engines for their local communities and states by conducting cutting-edge research that yields breakthroughs that improve life well beyond the confines of campus,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Equally important, these institutions cultivate the talent necessary to help fledgling business take flight and ensure existing enterprises have the human capital they need to maintain their dynamism.”

MSU’s successful application comes after more than a year of intensive institutional self-study and engagement with stakeholders to identify the strengths of the university’s economic engagement enterprise as well as areas for growth and improvement. As part of the self-study, the university identified three areas of institutional strength in economic engagement. Those include the university’s efforts in developing the photonics and optics industry in the Gallatin Valley, a host of programs that illustrate MSU’s dedication to serving Native American populations, and the university’s efforts to advance entrepreneurship.

“We are proud of the partnerships we have established and the support we have provided to businesses and industry,” said Renee Reijo Pera, MSU vice president of research and economic development. “We know these partnerships benefit businesses and industry by providing important research, and at the same time they benefit MSU students by providing opportunities to learn and put their knowledge into practice.”

In 1995 MSU established the Optical Technology Center, or OpTeC. The center’s vision was to integrate faculty in several disciplines to develop new technologies that could spin out companies, provide an educated workforce and collaborate closely with the private sector, according to Rebecca Mahurin, director of the MSU Technology Transfer Office. The center now boasts more than 20 faculty members in nine departments across three colleges -- the College of Engineering, College of Letters and Science and College of Agriculture. Mahurin noted that the research performed by OpTeC faculty has helped establish more than 30 optics-related companies in Bozeman, up from one in 1980. Fifteen of those were started by MSU graduates, and many others are based on technologies transferred by the university, she added.

MSU has also worked to respond to the needs of the industry, Mahurin said. When photonics companies expressed a need for a larger employee pipeline, MSU developed a new master’s program and an undergraduate minor in laser and imaging optics. When companies said they needed technicians, Gallatin College MSU began developing an associate’s degree for photonics laboratory technicians.

MSU has also developed a range of programs and partnerships to help serve Native Americans throughout Montana. One partnership matches MSU nursing students and the Fort Peck Reservation: as part of the partnership, nursing students travel to the reservation for one week each term to provide well-child exams, in-home exams for elders and others and suicide prevention education while learning about native culture, tradition, language and art. Another partnership between MSU and the Crow Reservation, carried out by the MSU Center for Biofilm Engineering, has focused on providing safe drinking water. Other programs work with math and science teachers across the state to integrate engineering concepts into high school classrooms on reservations.

MSU’s efforts to advance entrepreneurship include establishing an undergraduate entrepreneurship certificate in business for non-business majors; working with students one-on-one to introduce entrepreneurship as a viable career path and allow them to test their business ideas through the MSU Blackstone LaunchPad; working closely with students from high school through college to introduce entrepreneurship and train students in entrepreneurial skills; and expanding the College of Engineering’s vision of engineering education to include training entrepreneurs in engineering sciences. In addition, MSU offers a collection of business-assistance efforts, including the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center, which supports Montana’s manufacturers; TechLink, which performs technology transfer services for the Department of Defense; and the Technology Transfer Office, which has collaborated in starting up more than 60 companies from MSU research efforts in the last 15 years.

“Each one of these projects and partnerships is a thread that demonstrates that MSU cares about its state and is proactive in working on every aspect of the state’s health – economic, cultural and social,” Mahurin said. “Each thread is impressive on its own, but when you weave them all together, it’s a blanket that covers all of Montana. I’m proud to say that MSU is committed to continuing and growing these important projects and partnerships.”

Along with MSU, other institutions that earned the Innovation and Economic Prosperity designation this year are Arizona State University, Colorado State University, Iowa State University, University of California-Davis and Cleveland State University. A total of 54 institutions have now earned the designation.

Contact: Rebecca Mahurin, (406) 994-7868 or rmahurin@montana.edu