Wichita State becoming an innovation-focused university
Wichita State University President John Bardo has outlined a major expansion of the WSU campus to support job creation and a university strategy based on innovation.
In a presentation to faculty and staff today (Friday, Aug. 15), Bardo described plans that will transform the Braeburn Golf Course into an Innovation Campus serving students, companies and the community.
The changes Bardo described are tied to the university’s mission as “an essential educational, cultural and economic driver for Kansas and the greater public good.”
“The world has changed,” Bardo said, “and Wichita State offers the best hope for the economic expansion of this region and the state. Twenty years from now we want people to say that the Innovation Campus changed the economy of this community and made it possible for my child to stay here.”
The first five years of growth
Using a master plan and building renderings developed by WSU and GLMV Architecture, Bardo outlined a vision that could produce more than a dozen new buildings during the next 20 years.
Bardo emphasized that funding availability and private enterprise interests will dictate the speed of the build-out of the Innovation Campus. In that context, he said, the buildings most likely in the first five years include:
- An Experiential Engineering Building tied to the university’s strategic vision of being “internationally recognized for applied learning and research.” Bardo said it will include engineering laboratories and a maker space open to paying members — part of a national trend toward providing expensive high technology equipment in a center that can be accessed by students and the public to develop their ideas for inventions. He said experiential engineering would be the first building on the Innovation Campus, with construction likely to begin early in 2015. It will replace Wheatshocker Hall, a now vacant former dormitory on the southeastern edge of campus, near 17th Street.
- One or more Partnership Buildings, constructed with private funds by developers who will lease space to companies that want to work with WSU students and faculty.
- A new home for the W. Frank Barton School of Business, with an adjacent Innovation Center, open to students around the clock for working with state-of-the-art technology.
- Mixed-use buildings, built by private developers along 17th and 21st Streets, near Oliver, that would include retail stores and restaurants on the first level and apartments on upper levels.
- The possibility of a hotel, built by a private developer, on the southwest corner of 21st and Oliver.
- Depending on economic feasibility studies, other buildings might include a new residence hall on the Innovation Campus and a new parking garage adjacent to the newly renovated and expanded Rhatigan Student Center.
WSU as innovation catalyst
Bardo acknowledged that his plan would involve a change in thinking.
“We, as a university, have to think differently,” said Bardo. “We are positioning ourselves as the innovation leader for the state of Kansas. It’s thinking differently about what this community can be and creating a brighter future.”
The idea behind the Innovation Campus is for outside, mostly technology-based companies to build infrastructure on university grounds.
It’s an opportunity for outside companies to establish operations on campus, bringing with them new ideas, technology, jobs and paid student internships. In turn, the companies will gain regular interaction with WSU faculty, students, research and other technology-driven companies.
Many of the new buildings on the Innovation Campus will be funded by private enterprise and managed by WSU. Some facilities will require state and/or student support.
The private sector buildings will be on university land leased to the developer, which revert back to university ownership at an agreed upon time.
“These are buildings that meet the needs of the future,” said Bardo. “We aren’t competing with private enterprise. We are working private enterprise.”
The timing of the new buildings will depend on private enterprise and citizen interest and involvement.
“The positive collision of people and ideas will not only help grow Wichita State, but also foster entrepreneurial ideas to boost Wichita’s economy and allow students to get on-the-job experience while earning their degrees,” Bardo said.
It will also provide a more supportive and organized environment for WSU faculty doing research and looking to create business spinouts, patents and partnerships.
Anthony Vizzini, senior vice president and provost, said the concept of experiential learning is key to the Innovation Campus and applies to the entire campus. The goal is drawn from the university’s strategy.
“The first of the strategic goals,” Vizzini said, is to “guarantee an applied learning experience for every academic program.”
Vizzini said: “The Innovation Campus is truly transformational for the entire campus. While our faculty are known for their innovation — the Honors Baccalaureate is a great example — the Innovation Campus will create collision areas and maker spaces involving the greater community of Wichita.
“Our living, learning community will grow to encompass the full spectrum of live, learn, work and play,” said Vizzini. “We often say it’s an exciting time for Wichita State, but it’s really an exciting time for the region as we fully embrace the innovative spirit of our community.”
Improving the well-being of the region
“The creation of new knowledge and ideas is crucial to improving the future economic well-being of the region,” says John Tomblin, vice president for Research and Technology Transfer and executive director of the National Institute for Aviation Research. “The translation of new knowledge and ideas into society makes us more productive and creates new jobs.”
Already, three businesses have committed to opening offices in Partnership Buildings at Wichita State — NetApp, a global data storage company; Tech Mahindra, a leading supplier of tractors, utility vehicles and information technology; and Wichita-based ABI Group of Companies, which is expanding its manufacturing and distribution operations across the region.
Rhatigan Student Center and Shocker Hall
The new buildings on the Innovation Campus will follow major construction just completed on the traditional part of campus.
Shocker Hall, a 782-bed residence hall just south of Cessna Stadium, has opened at full capacity for fall semester. The Rhatigan Student Center has just completed a three-year expansion and renovation. Broad new pedestrian walkways are being landscaped along Alumni Drive and Yale Street.
How the Innovation Campus benefits students
In today’s economy where jobs are hard to find even out of college, students need every advantage they can get. The Innovation Campus will provide just that by allowing students to get paid internships with the businesses doing work on campus.
“If you look at it from a parent’s perspective – their son or daughter is not only getting a traditional degree, but they’re getting augmented with things they can put on their resume with real companies doing real work,” Tomblin says. “We are going to challenge the traditional educational model. We want our graduates to be employable and desirable in the job market.”
Students are already interested in how the Innovation Campus can benefit them, Tomblin says.
“I believe the Innovation Campus will help benefit me as a student because there will be more internship and networking opportunities with local companies,” says Nichole Stahl, a bioengineering major. “Because of the internship and networking opportunities, I will have made connections in college that I can use when I graduate to help me find a job.”
How the Innovation Campus benefits business
Tomblin says it takes most tech companies 18-30 months to turn a recent college graduate into a fully productive employee – time that most businesses can’t afford. But that changes when the employee has previous internship experience.
“When we offer a traditional education of an accredited university with typical textbook, lab experience and augment that with the experiential learning, that’s essentially what companies are looking for when they hire a graduate,” he says. “It’s like a very much enhanced co-op program where instead of co-op lasting over a break or during the summer, now they can have a co-op program that lasts for three or four years of their educational experience.”
Along with the experience comes the opportunity to gain valuable contacts within the company.
“Any job is about relationships,” Tomblin says. “This allows our students to form relationships with people in companies.”
Wichita State’s future: Innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and technology
Bardo says the Innovation Campus makes Wichita State’s strategic plan real.
“It changes the way we educate and integrate with the community. This has worked in many places around the United States. This is not new. It’s just new to us, and our location is a major asset,” said Bardo.
Bardo says the Innovation Campus gives companies the opportunity to hire student workers who can be trained, tested and may eventually grow into full-time employees.
“They can go after the best. These are all wins and really no losses,” said Bardo.
With elements that enhance every aspect of the college experience at WSU, “Learn, Work, Live, Play” summarizes the overall plan.
“Envision being part of a university where innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and technology are making the future. That is Wichita State,” said Bardo.