University system president Mun Choi spoke to members of Regional Economic Development, Inc.Wednesday afternoon and laid out plans to promote the University of Missouri as an economic development tool for the region.
“We want to take opportunities to partner with leading industries and entrepreneurs and small businesses through organizations like REDI to provide value through that partnership opportunity to have joint research, internships or even apply for joint grants to the federal government,” said Choi.
Choi has spent 24 years in higher education and was most recently the provost and executive vice president at the University of Connecticut. In his time there, he developed programs that grew enrollment, increased faculty hiring and expanded industry partnerships.
While the university system cut millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs out of this year’s budget, Choi said that part of the budget plan is to dedicate $40 million for strategic reinvestments. He revealed in his budget address two weeks ago, and reiterated it again Wednesday, that the University of Missouri will be hiring faculty in “critical areas” like engineering and medicine.
“(We’re) hiring faculty members who have that commitment to pursue the land grant mission of the university by having the opportunities where we provide benefits to the citizens of Missouri that are informed by research and teaching,” said Choi.
Part of that strategic investment will be the construction of two new buildings and the continued renovation of Lafferre Hall on Mizzou’s campus. One of the planned buildings will be a new east campus plant growth facility greenhouse that will be used for faculty members and researchers in plant sciences.
Another building will be a new advanced construction and materials laboratory. The final building is set to be the Lafferre renovation where there will be a transitional procedure medical complex that students and faculty in the engineering, nursing, health science and medicine fields could use.
“It’s a truly interdisciplinary approach for us to pursue research, work with industry partners and also train students who will become a very important part of the workforce development strategies that we have,” said Choi. “At our campus at Columbia and at Rolla, there’s a total shortage of about 3,000 square feet of space for both research as well as classroom and teaching laboratories.
Chamber of Commerce president Matt McCormick, who will be working closely with Choi, said he was encouraged that Choi is working on specific new programs to enhance local workforce development through the University of Missouri.
“Columbia’s really blessed with the fact that we have a diverse business base so it’s great to see all the different routes for research and manufacturing,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”
McCormick said he was glad to see Choi working on ways to tell a different story of Mizzou. Choi spoke to REDI members about sending a different message and speaking up about the opportunities at Mizzou instead of hiding behind the protests of November 2015 and how they affected enrollment.
“I think it’s very important for all of us: administrators, faculty and staff, and students to visit as many potential partners as possible,” said Choi. “Not only have the visits occur at Columbia at the campuses or at Rolla, Kansas City or St. Louis, but to have our visits be at a location where companies are doing innovative work and they’re seeking partnerships.”
Choi said there are currently two consulting firms working on ways to rebrand Mizzou, and he also suggested ways to find out what the current perception of the school is for potential students and their families, including a survey.
McCormick said he appreciated Choi’s vigor and strategic planning for the economy and enrollment, as well as for a rebranding.
“A lot of what he said was true,” he said. “People outside having an understand of what really did happen and what took place is taking an opportunity to take a look and say ‘we need to make sure that we’re writing our story.’ With the university writing their story, it also tells our community’s story because it’s so together.”