LEXINGTON, Ky. — Several possible thoughts that come to mind when business engagement is mentioned on University of Kentucky’s campus:
- As a student completing your undergrad degree, you may have applied to work with them after graduation.
- As a faculty member, you may wonder if your subject expertise can help them solve problems through research collaboration.
- As a staff member in philanthropy, perhaps you’re processing a generous gift that will help sustain a university program that will benefit the company.
This is the power of UK’s business partnerships. This is holistic engagement.
The university looks to the Office of Business Engagement (OBE) to cultivate this vision. The OBE develops, coordinates and maintains relationships with businesses and organizations in order to find mutually beneficial opportunities. Through this, the university forms partnerships that will help fulfill the land–grant mission and help our students succeed.
A holistically engaged partner is a business or organization that interacts with the university in multiple ways and colleges. For example, an engaged partner might be the business that supplies our technology. A holistic partner, however, not only works with the university as a supplier but has a campus presence with a goal of hiring UK students.
“It is critical that the university is intentional in fully engaging a company in all areas,” said Kim Kluemper, director of the OBE. “If a business is only engaging with our students in one area or major, they may be missing out on the skills and expertise of our students in other areas — skills that would add to the diversity of talent and perspective in their organization.”
The purpose of holistic engagement is to match university resources to business’s current and emerging needs to create mutually beneficial outcomes. This level of engagement is essential to the future of UK, and in turn, the Commonwealth.
From a research perspective, holistic engagement provides the opportunity to leverage expertise from across campus necessary to solve complex problems. It is important to note that over the past 10 years business and nonprofit investment in higher education R&D (research and development) has been growing at a faster rate than federal funding sources. And, of the federal funding programs, many are prioritizing industry partnerships. Nurturing our business partnerships needs to be an elevated priority.
“We have so much talent and resources here at UK and in our state, but unfortunately we rank in the lower 20th percentile in most U.S. industry R&D metrics,” said Landon Borders, executive director of UK Innovation Connect. “I see this as a great opportunity to advance Kentucky, but to make strides here requires a tremendous amount of collaboration with our UK colleagues as well as other colleges, universities, industries, state and local governments, startups, nonprofits and community partners in our region.”
In order to maintain a successful relationship with business engagement partners, the university must invest more in these types of relationships. There is a growing demand among students and parents for tangible returns on their education investments. This includes internships, careers and research opportunities.
To aid with holistic engagement, the OBE is developing tools and processes that will increase campuswide coordination between the university and holistic partners. To achieve this, OBE is working with Institutional Research, Analytics, and Decision Support experts Michelle Evans and ShaRona Lavender and the Office of Philanthropy and Alumni. They are working to create a central tracking and reporting system for UK’s business engagements. This system will help document top university business partners and identify potential opportunities for collaboration. The system will also serve the university community. When it is up and running, the system will be used to report the business engagements and opportunities of specific colleges.
Finally, Kluemper has created a task force to develop a pilot engagement initiative: OneUK. This program seeks to develop and expand holistic relationships with strategic business partners to facilitate coordinated excellence in education, research and community engagement across campus. OneUK is currently in the endorsement process and more details will be released in the coming months.
“I love partnerships and relationship building,” Kluemper said. “I see the impact it has on our students, our researchers, and our community. I see it at a fundamental level.”