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In Conversation: Research Collaborations

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Virginia Tech President Tim Sands and Washington State President Kirk Schulz, a Virginia Tech alumnus, share their thoughts on higher education. In part two of this on-on-one conversation, the two discuss collaborating on research opportunities.

The other interesting thing that we've spent a lot of time on is we started like Virginia Tech, a new medical school, and we're just graduating our second class. SANDS: Well, that's fantastic. Yeah. SHULZ: We're as a president it's been interesting, being a major part of that. But it turns out we had to amend the state constitution of Washington to even allow us to do it because the University of Washington had traditionally been the place that was. The two institutions got in a real battle over this before I got there. And one of the first things I did upon arrival was to sit down with my counterpart who was also new at University of Washington and really talk through, let's start collaborating together. And one of the interesting things that we found is this year to legislature, we took our first, it's in pharmacy. Took an opportunity that the two research institutions together were asking for money for. And we found that that was really well received. And so one of the things that I was curious to talk with you a little bit about. We only have two real large research universities in the state of Washington, multiple campuses, but we're really working to try and find ways to work together. How do you how do you do that in the state of Virginia? SANDS: Well, actually, it's kind of hard because as you I think you're reflecting and I just mentioned, we've got multiple institutions that are, that are not parts of systems. So it's not even like a system to system SCHULZ: Right SANDS: Conversation it's really about getting multiple individuals in a room to agree. And we have...I agree with you completely. When you can demonstrate a true partnership to the legislature, they they, they will resonate with that. And it just seems like a better way to spend money you have, instead of competing, Why don't you take your complimentary strings, put them together and be even better ? And there are some examples where that's worked well. I think it's been something that we've been doing more of every year. We started about five years ago the Virginia what we call the CCI, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative. It's a Virginia wide network, and cyber. And all, I think almost all of our four-year institutions, many of our community colleges, some privates, about 80 companies are all part of this. And we had to create this from whole cloth, but the state has been investing about 70 million a year base funding. And Virginia Tech runs it, but it's actually a hub and spoke kind of network. So we have a hub in northern Virginia. George Mason has a regional site in Northern Virginia, but then we have ODU works through the Newport News area that part of the state, eastern corner of the state. And then we've got similar local hubs, if you will. And about four different, four or five different areas. And they love thematic emphasis. So if, if you're in Hampton roads, you're going to have an emphasis around the port, around the military. Those cyber issues are going to be local. And then they all come together. So people were very skeptical about this. We presented it to the leadership and in the House. I think it was about five years ago, and we found a couple of supportive folks that really supportive. And they eventually convinced their colleagues that this was a good idea. But I think our academic partners were very skeptical. They were very happy to see this happening in a way, but this isn't going to work. And it did take about a year to pull pull everybody together. But now they've together we together have brought in I think it's the last number I heard was 70, 77 million in research grants. We're competing for things together that we could have never competed for as individual institutions. So once you see that kind of model working, it's about trust and alignment it starts to snowball. And we've been having conversations in the health sciences space as well because we have two big institutions, Virginia and VCU, that have their own healthcare system or one that's loosely attached. And then we've got Virginia Tech, which has a medical school that is in a research institute that is more or less a joint project between Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech. A little different model. And we're seeing more and more an appetite to put them together around research especially. So I do think you're right that is anytime you can form partnership, people's ears perk up they listen to proposals much, it's a much different situation and going at it individually. SCHULZ: I think it's the history though sometimes will get in the way of those types of things. And so we're we're trying to take it slow and do it like you describe when it really makes great sense. I mean if it makes great sense, at the end of the day, I find most faculty at any institution they want to have additional resources to do the work they'd like to. They want to collaborate and I sometimes find as a president My job is to align a few things and then just back up and people figure out how to do some things without a lot of interference if there's that, that resource there. And I think that's an opportunity we have as presidents is; How do we do more of these collaborative efforts within state boundaries ? And I also want to see us do more in our area within the Pacific Northwest and a four or five state region because sometimes, you know, do I want to read, located in Spokane or Seattle rather than somewhere in Oregon or Northern California. But sometimes people look at that whole area as a whole and we have to start, I think being also little bit more regional and some of our cooperation. So it'll be an interesting challenge to see where that works in the next four or five years. SANDS: We had the same issue, of course, a lot of our opportunity is up in the Washington Metro region. So we've got DC, Maryland, and Virginia that have to figure out how to work together. And in some ways we have, in some areas we have, but in other areas it's been, it is a challenge. Even though the people working up there don't care really whether they could be living in Virginia, working in Maryland, working in DC, living in Virginia. It's all one big region to them. They don't they don't recognize the jurisdictional boundaries outside of paying taxes. One issue that we've tried to address, but you have the same opportunity and I'm curious how far along you are or whether you see it the same way. When I came into Virginia Tech, I recognized and valued the fact that the main campus here, and we have one big undergraduate campus, a little different than, than Washington State University. But, it's here in this rural area that is very frankly, difficult to get to. People love the drive, especially right now you get the red buds are at their peak. So Interstate 81 isn't quite as bad as it normally is. And it's kind of a pretty drive. But, it takes a commitment, it's four hours from metro areas. And so we we thought about; Okay, how could Virginia Tech become a rural and urban land grant ? Because we don't want to give up the rural mission that's really critical. It will be for, I think, as far as we can see. But having a one foot in the metro area is actually helpful because our people go back and forth a lot of our students are from Northern Virginia. I've forgotten the percentage, but it's, it's not far from 50 percent. And so we've really gotta be mindful of the fact that we may think we're sitting here in Blacksburg in this beautiful kind of heaven of a place. It's just wonderful if you like the outdoors. But, our partners are up in Northern Virginia. a lot of them. Some of them we can bring here, some we can't. How have you dealt with that ? Because, you're in Pullman, so you've got the same thing. You've got a beautiful environment, natural beauty, but you've got a long trip from Pullman to Seattle. And so what what is the how is the system adapted to accommodate that ? SCHULZ: That's been one of our biggest leadership challenges, one of mine in my six years there. And so we have five physical campuses. So we're located in North Seattle and Everett, and the Portland, Vancouver area. We have a physical campus. We've got one in Spokane with health sciences. Pullman is our historic home for a 130 years. And then we have one in the Tri Cities area, which is a Richland Washington around with Pacific Northwest National Lab. So for years everything kinda went through Pullman. And recently what we did is to really help those urban centered campuses to grow and thrive. We've actually formally structured ourself as a system. So on January 1st, I started as a system president. So we appointed a Chancellor of our flagship campus for the first time in our history, who's got responsibilities for running the day-to-day. But that being said, what we sort of found was we were in this rural area, the historic center. We were trying to make decisions on what made real sense for our urban centers. Where our local leadership in the urban centers would sometimes say this is what the communities asking for this industry is asking for. And there's a dynamic tension of, well, we can do that in Pullman and send people there and they're saying, No, we want it locally and how do we balance those things out? So what we're trying to do is say for each of those campuses, we want to have single quality degree. No, there's no difference on the diplomas based on where you go within the system. But at the same time, we want to make sure that in those local communities that we are meeting those community needs going back to our land-grant roots. I'm describing in this wonderful ideal setting, the fact of matter. There's some dynamic tension that goes on. And when there's new dollars for new program, sometimes people go, why are we doing that the flagship? Why are we doing that somewhere else? But I think that's what we're trying to do is go back to our core principle of meeting community needs. Bringing the quality education, research and service that has been known for a long time. and trying to balance those particular things out. So that's why I was so intrigued and I was thrilled to see all the work going on in the sort of Capital Region and working with attracting Amazon. And I think that's going to be just a fantastic opportunity for Virginia Tech. I think it's also going to present some challenges as that grows and gets bigger, gains, more influence, and you got people wanting to move back and forth. And that's the reason we move to a model of a system president where I don't have responsibilities was I need to be in those communities more. The expectation was I wasn't as communities more. And it's where the majority of our undergraduate students come from for the majority of our donors actually live. And so that, that we just took that next step. And I think it'll be interesting over time. You know, they're going to want to see you up in Northern Virginia 80 hours a week. SANDS: Oh, yeah. SCHULZ: They're going to want you here 80 hours a week. And at some point, it's hard to figure out how to, how to balance and manage that. Seen a little of that we've maybe not have quite the driver that you had to form that kind of a system because we don't have undergraduate programs outside of Blacksburg. I mean, there are some that straddle other communities, but for the most part they're concentrated here. But we have the Innovation Campus. We've got a national security institute up in Northern Virginia, we've got the Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church. So there's already a kind of a critical mass there for graduate programs and research. And our partners, a lot of our partners are up there and alumni, as you mentioned, students come from that area. And we have our health science and technology campus in Roanoke. So, we are distributed and we've been spending a lot of time talking about; How do we not just message, but how do we talk about Virginia Tech as one campus ? If you will. It's a little because we want people to feel like they can move from one to the other in their career. And they can be based in Blacksburg, but still have access to the assets in Northern Virginia, or in Roanoke. And that's just a natural part, that's one of the benefits of being at Virginia Tech is you have all this. But, but there is this tension. We're in the process of filling out our faculty, an initial tranche of faculty, at the Innovation Campus. And those are, those are the conversations, the cultural, what we've ended up with, the model that everybody has a faculty appointment that resides in their department, which is typically headquartered in Blacksburg. it may be distributed electrical engineering, electrical computer engineering is partly in Northern Virginia and partly in Blacksburg. But it's still the same department head in the same tenure and promotion. But on the other side, look at the actual faculty role at the Innovation Campus is very different. It's project-based learning, it's masters degree level, and then PhD. And it's engaged scholarship, really a 100 percent of it. And so given faculty member at Blacksburg might actually resonate with that new model, right? But it's not everybody. But with time, we're going to have to deal with people moving back and forth and try to encourage it. Well, it's in a while. I'll be interested to see how you're how you feel about it in a couple of years because I don't know, there's never a perfect way to organize. SCHULZ: We're organized actually, very similar lines. If you're an electrical engineering faculty member. We have, EE programs in three places in the state, four actually. And all the faculty report to one department head. But we got these dual reporting lines because you've got them on a particular physical campus and they're all tenured in one place, so they're not tenured at the campus level. Their tenure as part of Washington State University. And actually, the Provost and I made a suggestion that maybe we move away a little bit from that model and tenure people locally and that was not well-received by the faculty. So we pulled that back and which was fine, it wasn't that controversial, but it was just; We thought, well maybe this will make life easier, and people said, no. If I'm going to be at campus x or y, I still want to be seen as part of a large research one land-grant university. What we found though, is some of our other campuses also need some of the major scholarly resources that are available on the flagship campus. And there's just certain things that are gonna be here in Blacksburg that you probably not going to want to duplicate up there no matter how big it gets. That's the challenge is how do we take a young faculty member that maybe needs certain equipment? And they're going to try and bounce back and forth a little bit. And so we started just being a little more creative in how we look at that. And, and I'll be curious to see how it continues to go here.