The University of New Hampshire was one of three universities to be awarded the Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) Designation from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) in 2017.  The APLU’s IEP Universities program was developed to recognize institutions of higher education for their efforts in economic engagement.  Economic engagement refers to university initiatives that promote innovation and entrepreneurship, excellence in technology transfer, and leadership in talent and workforce development. All over the country, public universities partner with community organizations, state and local government, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and major corporations, with collaborative outcomes leading to healthier and more engaged citizens and thriving economies.

The IEP designation application process requires that applicant institutions conduct a rigorous self-study of their economic engagement efforts that includes input from both internal and external stakeholders. As part of the self-study, each institution identifies its strengths as well as areas for growth and improvement within its economic engagement enterprise. Once an institution earns the IEP University designation, they are then eligible to apply for IEP University Awards. Each year at the APLU Annual Meeting, institutions are recognized for their exemplary work through the IEP Awards.

UNH’s IEP Designation Application Process
Under the directive of President Mark Huddleston, UNH began pursuing the Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) designation in late 2015 as a complement to the broader conversations happening around the state about how NH higher education affects the regional economy. The New Hampshire College & University Council released a statewide economic impact report in early 2015 that found NH’s 22 higher education institutions had a $5.8 billion economic impact on the state. Around the same time, the NH Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NH EPSCoR) was developing the NH University Research and Industry Plan to identify key growth sectors for NH and how the state’s colleges and universities could contribute to that growth.

NH faces many economic challenges including an outmigration of young people, shortages of skilled labor, high child poverty, an opioid crisis, and an aging population. Pursuing the IEP designation gives UNH the opportunity to focus its efforts on addressing these regional needs by better understanding its economic impact, creating a shared vision of innovation and economic engagement among its internal community and external partners, and gathering input for when the university prepares its next 10-year strategic plan.

The IEP application process was led by a cross-institutional Steering Committee and Core Implementation Team, which included UNHInnovation’s (UNHI) Managing Director Marc Sedam and Associate Director Maria Emanuel. UNH stakeholders were engaged through the use of internal and external focus groups, online surveys, and telephone polls. Over the course of the study, 2,142 participants were asked about their perception of UNH’s impact on the state’s economy and their thoughts on where UNH should concentrate its efforts. They were also asked to rate UNH’s effectiveness at communicating its activities and priorities.

Self-Study Accomplishments

The results of the IEP self-study process helped UNH identify three core areas where its cross-institutional economic engagement efforts have been successful in the eyes of both internal and external stakeholders: 1) broadband access and utilization, 2) university-industry partnerships, and 3) expanding experiential learning. Some of UNH’s key accomplishments in economic engagement include the installation of an 865-mile ‘middle-mile’ fiber network that extends to all ten of NH’s counties, the creation of the John Olson Advanced Manufacturing Center in 2016 to strengthen ties to NH businesses by focusing on advanced manufacturing industry needs, and the recent redesign of the university’s career center to help make students’ years at UNH the building blocks for future success.

Many of UNHI’s activities were included in the self-study report. For example, one of UNHI’s core functions is to support and increase university-industry partnerships. In 2015, UNHI established a new Strategic Partnerships unit to facilitate industry engagement with UNH in any capacity. Establishment of this office was a direct response to consistent feedback about the difficulties for companies learning about and accessing what resources UNH has to offer. UNHI’s Strategic Partnerships team has hosted several Industry Sandpits to showcase UNH’s expertise in various industries and has engaged hundreds of regional companies as they discover and utilize resources available on campus.

Growth and Improvement Plan

The IEP designation application process also identified a number of areas where the university can build upon its strengths to improve for the future. The Growth and Improvement Plan includes commitments to: 1) develop an institutional vision and priorities for economic engagement, 2) effectively communicate UNH’s resources that contribute to innovation and economic vitality, and 3) strengthen tools that increase professional success for UNH graduates. UNH’s leadership is already instituting a number of efforts and initiatives to tackle these three areas. For example, UNH is launching and enhancing a series of media channels and venues to highlight its efforts and resources, Career and Professional Services (CaPS) is building systems to forge stronger ties between students and businesses/organizations, and the Office of Research and UNHI are catalyzing public-private partnerships by leveraging the institution’s resources. The Growth and Improvement Plan reinforces the university’s current Strategic Plan, and provides a framework for tying together existing and future efforts across the institution and with key stakeholders in NH’s citizenry, communities, businesses, organizations, and governments.

“UNH has a 150-year tradition of addressing regional needs and strengthening key economic sectors, and receiving the IEP University designation underlines UNH’s commitment to continuing that tradition for another 150 years.” said Marc Sedam, who also serves as associate vice provost of innovation and new ventures at UNH. “The university approached the application process thoughtfully and methodically in order to learn as much as possible about how we are perceived by stakeholders, in what areas we are most relevant, and where we are missing the mark in our economic engagement efforts. The Growth and Improvement Plan that grew out of what we learned in the self-study provides an excellent bridge to take us to where we want to be.”

“We’re honored the APLU has recognized our efforts to advance economic engagement in the state and the region,” said UNH President Mark Huddleston. “Fewer than 60 institutions in the country have earned this designation and we’re proud of the hard work that has been done to get us to this point. We remain committed to supporting communities and businesses throughout the state and surrounding region through workforce development, technology and research.”