Colorado State University, the largest employer in northern Colorado, has long been viewed as a powerful economic engine. Now, the university is seeking to better understand how that engine – fueled by more than 30,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff – supports the economic vitality of the surrounding region and entire state.
This intensive self-study will result in a clearer picture of the university’s significant accomplishments as an economic partner, as well as identify opportunities for growth in advancing regional innovation and economic prosperity.
Led by CSU’s Office of Community and Economic Development and co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the City of Fort Collins, the self-study is part of an effort to gain designation as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The IEP designation recognizes public universities across the U.S. that work proactively with diverse partners toward advancing the economic well-being of the city, region, state and nation.
CSU’s efforts have been led by a steering committee of campus and community leaders who have convened regularly since last fall as part of the assessment and reflection process. A targeted survey of faculty, staff and students was conducted in December and the university hosted a feedback forum at the Lincoln Center in late January that was attended by more than 100 representatives from regional business, government and nonprofit organizations. Community response to the process has been strong and enthusiastic, providing further support for the new direction to the university’s planning efforts.
University achievements highlighted
The application highlights CSU’s achievements across talent development, research and innovation, and community stewardship as integral elements of economic prosperity. The university’s exceptional commitment to sustainability, woven across the fabric of the institution and embedded in the Fort Collins community, is one of the best examples of where these principles intersect.
The effort is identifying the breadth of distinctive educational programs developed in response to regional needs, including Fermentation Science and Technology, Institute for Entrepreneurship and Master of Tourism Management, to name only a few. Additionally, the work of CSU’s Office of Engagement to help Extension be more responsive to the communities it serves, and the university’s role in advancing agricultural innovation in Colorado are cited as examples of the land-grant mission at work today.
From this process, three goals for improvement have emerged. The university will:
- Work alongside industry and community partners to better articulate and communicate its economic engagement strategy;
- Improve the university culture for economic engagement through greater support for faculty and staff interested in engaged scholarship and streamline access for external stakeholders, and;
- Extend its leadership in diversity and inclusion from campus to community as a catalyst for regional innovation.
“Colorado State University’s opportunity to grow and enhance its connection and communication in the broader region around innovation and economic engagement is enormous,” said Kathay Rennels, associate vice president for the Office of Engagement. “We are using this process of self-analysis to find, leverage and enhance those areas where higher education can actively advance regional prosperity and quality of life for all Coloradans. Intentionality in this direction will maximize our ability to deliver against the 21st century land-grant mission.”
City of Fort Collins a close partner
The City of Fort Collins has launched a concurrent effort to assess the innovation landscape, following a May 2015 decision by City Council to prioritize community innovation. Through community and stakeholder engagement in partnership with CSU, the city has identified accomplishments and improvement areas that will direct strategic investments to help shape the future for an already high-performing community.
“As a university city, Fort Collins is an innovation community. Together with institutional partners like CSU, we are rich in creative talents and energy,” said Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, also a professor in CSU’s College of Engineering. “An innovation community is where all citizens are co-creators in making a better community. The City of Fort Collins is a platform for innovation much like a smart device is a platform for apps.”
CSU and Fort Collins are widely recognized as places of innovation, perhaps most notably by the Smithsonian Institution. The Lemmelson Center within the American History Museum at the Smithsonian has included Fort Collins and CSU in “Places of Invention.” The exhibit places the region’s contemporary work in clean energy development, with notable contributions from CSU’s Powerhouse Energy Campus and ventures such as EnviroFit, Prieto Battery and Spirae, alongside five historical case studies of American invention and innovation.
The university will issue a full report on its findings and plans in the coming months and expects to receive word on its IEP designation status by early summer.