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UW’s Role in Growing and Diversifying Wyoming’s Economy

January 7, 2019
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By Laurie S. Nichols

As Wyoming’s flagship and land-grant university, the University of Wyoming has the responsibility to serve the state’s people by providing outstanding educational opportunities; conducting cutting-edge research to address the state’s challenges; and engaging with Wyoming communities to sustain and improve our quality of life.

Embedded in each of those tasks is the duty to serve as an intellectual engine to grow and diversify the state’s economy. That’s why our strategic plan, “Breaking Through: 2017-2022,” includes measures such as: expanding the capacity of our Office of Research and Economic Development; promoting academic programs that address workforce needs of the state and region; establishing a center for entrepreneurship and infusing innovation throughout our curriculum; and supporting economic development in Wyoming through ENDOW and other opportunities.

In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” appears several times in our strategic plan, in recognition of the need for the university to produce graduates and help faculty members who have strong new business ideas bring them to commercial success—in addition  to supporting the state’s existing industries.

There are many examples of UW’s efforts on the latter. They range from work by our School of Energy Resources and College of Engineering and Applied Science to find new uses for Wyoming coal; to research in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station to benefit livestock and crop production; to creation of an outdoor recreation and tourism management degree by the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and College of Business.

The university’s efforts in entrepreneurship, meanwhile, have been raised to a new level with the launch of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE). You can read about the IIE in detail in this issue of UWyo Magazine, but its mission is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among UW students, faculty and staff, and across the state, to diversify the economy and drive economic growth.

The IIE will build upon the successes of existing university programs in entrepreneurship and business development, including the Wyoming Technology Business Center, the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network, and the Fisher Innovation Challenge and Ellbogen Entrepreneurship Competition. You can read some of these success stories—including those of students and alumni who have launched successful businesses—in this issue of the magazine

A cluster hire around entrepreneurship helped launch the IIE, and these new faculty hires are profiled here as well. These individuals are working hard on a number of fronts, including infusing entrepreneurship principles across our curriculum. This involves development of a cross-campus entrepreneurship minor open to all UW students, as well as potential undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurship degree programs. The goal is create a culture of entrepreneurship across campus, with students engaging in experiential learning though integrated coursework, competitions, class projects, internships and more.

Other elements of the IIE include:

– The Center for Business and Economic Analysis, which provides professional economic insight, undertakes economic impact assessments, conducts specialized analyses, and studies and disseminates population demographic and workforce conditions to support statewide economic development.

– The Center for Design Thinking,  a partnership between the Department of Visual and Literary Arts and the College of Engineering and Applied Science, to be located in the new Engineering Education and Research Building.

– The Health Bioscience Innovation Hub, which will help develop next-generation health and wellness solutions.

– A proposed entrepreneurship and intellectual property law practicum.

Additionally, we have hired a new director of the university’s Wyoming Technology Transfer and Research Products Center, which provides faculty, staff, students and Wyoming entrepreneurs with guidance and resources to identify, promote and protect intellectual property with market potential.

Even as Wyoming is emerging from  a serious economic downturn driven by  low commodity prices, the desire of state leaders to diversify the state’s economy— as reflected by former Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW initiative—appears to be strong. We are excited to work with newly elected Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Business Council, the Legislature, our community college partners and others to move the state forward in the economy of the 21st century.

Achieving the goal of a more vibrant, diverse economy also must include lifting the educational attainment of Wyoming people. We are working closely with community colleges, the state Department of Education and others on that front. I will be sure to detail those efforts in a future UWyo Magazine.

Ultimately, we all would like to see an economy that provides career opportunities for all Wyoming young people who want to stay here. Your state university is committed to doing everything it can to make that happen.

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