The online magazine of the University of Texas System
How the UT System is Keeping Texas Competitive Today and Tomorrow.
The challenge issued by the 2005 Rising Above the Gathering Storm report was clear: in order to invigorate the economy and maintain a competitive advantage globally, the United States needed to step up its efforts in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine — and higher education had to play the key role, particularly in research.
The response by The University of Texas System was equally clear: in August 2006, the Board of Regents committed $2.56 billion to building the most competitive science, engineering, technology and health infrastructure in the nation, and to employing world-class faculty in those disciplines. Dubbed the Competitiveness Initiative (CI), the commitment has since grown to more than $3 billion. Most of this money has gone into building (or renovating) facilities that have transformed UT institutions; the CI designated some 44 projects, 12 of which have already been completed, statewide.
"In just two years the Competitiveness Initiative has already achieved spectacular results," says UT System Vice Chancellor for Research and Technology Transfer Keith McDowell. "It’s going to be incredible what we continue to do. We’ve expanded our research capacity significantly and we’re attracting the very best researchers in the world. That’s very exciting."
Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future was written by the National Academies Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, chaired by Norm Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. It cited four elements necessary for competitiveness. They are: increased science, technology, engineering, math and medical education; greater support for basic research; an environment that boosts competitive capacity; and incentives for innovation. Thanks to CI funding, UT institutions are now positioned to more effectively accomplish all of this. Two completed projects help illustrate how.
Such state-of-the-art facilities serve to recruit and retain prestigious faculty members who attract the best and brightest students, and whose research brings increased federal dollars in the form of grants to campuses across the UT System. The Science and Technology Acquisition and Recruitment (STARs) Program, a key component of the Competitiveness Initiative, funds the incentives for these research "stars." A STARs award was used by UTMB, for example, to attract Dr. James LeDuc, deputy director of the Galveston National Lab and director of the Global Health Program at the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At The University of Texas at Dallas, STARs funding brought Dr. Yves Chabal, one of the world’s leading nanotechnology researchers in semiconductor surfaces and materials, from Rutgers University. Dr. Chabal says he was enticed in part by completion of the new Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Laboratory.
Once the new facilities have attracted new faculty and researchers, the impact is felt in numerous ways. Quality researchers win considerable research money. Their research may eventually be commercialized and lead to new products, which could lead to new companies, which require people, for everything from manufacturing to marketing to sales staff. Thus, new jobs are created, both on-campus and in the surrounding community. The entire economy benefits from science breakthroughs.
At The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Dr. Mauro Ferrari was lured to Texas by a $2.5 million award from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF), matched by over $9 million from UTHSCH, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, and NASA. Since his arrival in 2006, Dr. Ferrari "has already helped create two companies'" says Vice Chancellor McDowell.
Consider the BioCenter at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, which includes an incubator to help create start-up companies. The first of five buildings to be completed at UT Southwestern, the finished center will merge scientific research and discovery — much of it in partnership with private industry — with real-world applications. Say UT Southwestern’s pioneering research on cholesterol should eventually yield a new class of cholesterol-reducing medication; the center provides resources to produce the drug onsite by companies either assisted or partially owned by the institution.
Houston-based Pulmotect, Inc. develops products — first created at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center — that rapidly stimulate the body’s natural immune system to provide protection against a range of lung infections and bioterror agents like anthrax, tularemia and plague. These offer significant defense against both naturally occurring epidemics and bioterrorist attacks. Pulmotect received funding from the state’s Texas Emerging Technology Fund and the Texas Ignition Fund, another program made possible by the UT System Competitiveness Initiative. This state-university partnership ensures that research discoveries at UTMDACC are transformed into products that make our world a better place.
Dr. McDowell is quick to point out that the best way to calculate the success of these efforts is not necessarily through the new companies and products created, or the profits they bring. Research expenditures, particularly federal monies brought in through competitive grants, are probably the strongest index and in 2008 the UT System's research expenditures increased about 11.5 percent. The UT System receives about six percent of the roughly $40 billion that the U.S. government invests annually in university research, and that "market share" is also increasing steadily. "And, it's all driven by our research capacity and the people we’ve been able to hire and bring to Texas'" Dr. McDowell explains.
Nor is Dr. McDowell the only one singing the praises of the Competitiveness Initiative. "The UT System Board of Regents recognized the importance of the issue and they invested in it. It'll pay enormous gains for the state as well as the country'" says Norm Augustine, the man whose Rising Above the Gathering Storm report provided the original impetus. "It’s one thing to have a plan and it’s another to make it happen. Texas has made this happen."
— John Morthland
Funding for the UT System Competitive Initiative is proof of a true public/private partnership that reflects the shared commitment of government, industry, donors and the UT System institutions. Sources for the total $2.56 billion initiative include state and federal appropriations, tuition revenue bonds, institution funds, Permanent University Fund allocations, and private funds or gifts from business, industry, foundations and individuals. Across the state, UT institutions are maximizing revenue by integrating external and institutional resources into the support provided by the UT System. For example, some institutions have significantly expanded their research and commercialization personnel while others have developed innovative programs to enhance faculty and student training, public-private partnerships, and the institution’s economic impact on the region.
One example of a Systemwide investment to advance research and commercialization is the partnership between the UT System and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). To date, the UT System Board of Regents has allocated $1.875 million — which has been matched and then some by Sandia — for at least six initiatives involving joint research and commercialization. These initiatives are for "grand challenges" such as an aggregate model of health care delivery and financing, computational modeling of geosystems and laser science and technology. UT institutions and SNL share personnel, facilities and resources alike. How do such partnerships pay off? "We have grant proposals out there for something like $150 million and several have already been funded. For example, we put in a joint proposal with Sandia for an Energy Frontier Research Center from the Department of Energy that's been funded for close to $13 million," replies McDowell. "So, with our seed funding with Sandia we’ve already gotten back our investment several times over and we’ve barely begun."
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