In 1862, the United States established “land-grant” universities to focus on teaching agriculture and practical technology to a rapidly expanding and industrializing nation. Today, the U.S. is no longer a primarily agrarian society, yet land-grant universities – which exist in every state and territory – still have “vital contemporary relevance,” according to Dr. Nicholas P. Jones, the provost and executive vice president of Penn State University.
Dr. Jones described the current mission of land-grant universities, and Penn State in particular, in a lecture at Stevens Institute of Technology on May 10. His presentation, “Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Driving the Modern-Day Mission of a Land-Grant University,” was the first lecture in the new Research and Innovation Lecture Series, hosted by Vice Provost of Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Mo Dehghani.
Changing world, evolving mission
Although Penn State now encompasses 24 campuses across Pennsylvania and has a student body totaling 97,000, the university continues to build on its land-grant legacy by striving to innovate and promote entrepreneurship, Dr. Jones said.
"The world is a much more complex place than it was in the 1860s,” Dr. Jones said. “Now, Penn State is challenged with adhering to its mission in a world driven by innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Dr. Jones is Penn State’s chief academic officer, responsible for all of the institution’s academic units and major academic support units. He came to Penn State in 2013 from The Johns Hopkins University, where he served as the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering. He recently completed work with a 32-member University Strategic Planning Council on Penn State's new, comprehensive strategic plan for 2016-20, which was published in February.
Common Ground with Stevens
Although Penn State and Stevens differ greatly in size and in the scope of their educational missions, the two schools have a surprising amount in common, Dr. Jones said. Current efforts at Penn State focus on nurturing entrepreneurial activities and fostering cooperation among students, faculty, alumni and business leaders to drive job creation and economic development.
Dr. Jones noted that Penn State has launched several initiatives aimed achieving these goals. They include:
- Happy Valley Launchbox, an innovation center and business accelerator program that helps early-stage ventures by providing space mentorship, technical support, consultation and training so that fledgling companies can survive until they land their first customers or investors. Penn State plans to expand the concept beyond its main campus in State College (known as “Happy Valley”) to other locations.
- EdTech Network, which promotes active collaboration among companies, students, faculty, staff and alumni to develop transformational education technology.
- IST Startup Week, hosted by the College of Information Sciences and Technology, which showcases enterprising student work in innovation and entrepreneurship.
These initiatives and more are helping Penn State bring the fruits of its research to the world at large while making education and technology available locally and globally, Dr. Jones said. "The elements are in place for Penn State to continue to extend its reach and impact through teaching, research and service,” Dr. Jones said.