03 Sep UW-Milwaukee dean says Wisconsin is big enough for two strong research universities
Editor’s note: Colin Scanes, the new vice chancellor for research and economic development and dean of the graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was recruited from a similar post at Mississippi State University to reinforce UWM’s commitment to research and high-tech job creation. The university already has pieces in place like the Research Growth Initiative, a Research Foundation, an Office of Technology Transfer, a $100 million capital campaign, and corporate collaborations with the likes of Rockwell Automation, but it is attempting to gain even more traction by developing an engineering campus in Wauwatosa and a School of Public Health in downtown Milwaukee, pending state budget approvals.
Scanes, who recently took some time for a WTN Visions interview, also intends to build a more aspirational culture at a school that is poised to make its own mark in research and contribute a knowledge base to Milwaukee’s economic renaissance.
WTN: What have you been told about your role at UWM?
Scanes: The role that I’m really delighted to be part of is to be growing the research enterprise at the university, thereby affecting economic development of the southeast Wisconsin area, including Greater Milwaukee. Coupled with this is the issue of increasing the number of graduate students and having students who will then have an entrepreneurial spirit and stay in the area.
WTN: What’s Job 1 for you right now in terms of making that happen? Would it be the proposed engineering campus?
Scanes: I think we’re talking about [developing] the downtown campus, the Wauwatosa campus, and the harbor campus with the [UWM] Water Institute, and all are high priorities. Where we’re looking to grow, first of all, is where we already have strengths; secondly, where there are opportunities where we can hire. The trajectory for the university is very good. We want to see it move from very good to excellent.
WNT: What’s your early assessment of the research strengths?
Scanes: We’re seeing growing strengths in the health sciences, nursing, the areas of biotechnology, the areas of materials in the broadest sense, and the Water Institute is remarkable. It’s one of the strongest fresh water centers in the world. It offers the potential to be a magnet or an anchor for development in that part of Milwaukee, so I think we have a significant number of strengths.
We’ve got to have some changes in culture, moving aspirations up. We don’t want to be thought of as the second university in the state. When I’ve talked to people outside of Wisconsin, the university has a very strong reputation outside of Wisconsin, and that reflects its true quality. Once you get across the state border, it really does move up.
WTN: Can this university do for Milwaukee and the southeastern region what University of Wisconsin-Madison does for Madison, Dane County, and really the entire state in terms of technology transfer?
Scanes: I think our goal is to do that, but also to be looking at other urban universities, urban research universities. This state is big enough to have two strong research universities. We can’t be the same. We can’t do the same things, but both can make a tremendous impact to the state.
WTN: Is there anything in the state budget being debated in Madison right now that you absolutely have to have?
Scanes: I’ve stayed out of the state budget, but it’s going to be important that both the base budget and the [$10 million] DIN proposal [for a base budget increase] are taken care of. It would be disadvantageous to see the university experience a cut in its base budget and then be putting in new programs. The new programs are critically important, however.
WTN: Is there an urban university model that you’re looking to emulate?
Scanes: I would like to emulate the entrepreneurial spirit of Arizona State University in terms of setting high aspirations, being innovative, doing things differently. If one is looking at others, the University of Illinois at Chicago is another very strong school. In some ways, I saw something that was very interesting on their website – every great city needs a great university. We want to do this in partnership with other universities and institutes of higher education in Milwaukee.
I’m saying that we can’t try to be the same as Madison, but no universities can try to be the same. You’re always looking at where are opportunities? Where are strengths? Those two things, if they align, that’s great, but you can also build where there are opportunities and you can always be building upon strengths.
• UWM appoints Scanes as vice chancellor of research
• Doyle outlines spending for Medical College, UWM
• Grow Milwaukee includes millions for tech funding
• UWM chancellor wants two new research campuses
• Rockwell’s $1M gift to UWM will support advanced automation research