When I was appointed interim president of the University of Missouri system last November, after three decades of serving in academic and leadership roles on our Columbia campus, I was both honored and humbled by the awesome responsibility. Becoming president of the entire UM system has allowed me to reflect on something I always knew to be true: that all 6 million Missourians, in communities across our state, have a connection to the system.
Just consider, for example, how the university system affects Kansas City and Jackson County every day.
Currently, we educate nearly 78,000 students on our four campuses (Columbia, Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis), providing the talented workforce that is critical to our state’s employers. Currently, 8,347 of those students are residents of Jackson County, many of whom will return, educated and ready, to join the workforce and help boost the Kansas City-area economy upon graduation.
The people of Kansas City benefit from the many research advances discovered on our campuses, from life-saving medical cures to the powering of some of our state’s most important industries, such as bioscience, engineering and computer technology. In 2015 alone, system research brought in more than $295 million in grants to Missouri, further helping to spur our statewide economy.
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The universities provide health services to hundreds of thousands of Missourians. Clinical faculty, staff and students at UMKC’s Health Sciences Campus on Hospital Hill provide millions of dollars in dental, nursing, pharmaceutical and medical care each year through university partners. For example, more than 14,000 patients were served by a student group affiliated with the UMKC School of Pharmacy, and another 7,187 patients were seen by the UMKC School of Dentistry in 2015.
UMKC bioscience research teams put a teaching and research focus on the important issue of health disparities. Urban residents suffer heart disease, breast cancer, asthma and diabetes at rates much higher than those of the general population, and our work is improving the standard of care and quality of life for these residents.
UMKC’s urban environment also creates a real-world learning laboratory for students in the department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design. Student projects focus on situations in real Kansas City neighborhoods, and the assignments call for students to develop solutions that enhance the community.
As computer technology and engineering have grown in size and importance to Kansas City’s economic base, UMKC’s computing and engineering students intern and later join the workforce of numerous Kansas City-based companies. And on the entrepreneurship front, the UMKC Innovation Center launched a program call Digital Sandbox KC, devoted to high-tech start-ups; since 2013, Digital Sandbox KC has helped more than 30 start-up tech companies connect with $18 million in investment capital, producing more than 180 new jobs paying more than $5 million in salaries.
There are far more examples, but the point remains. For decades, the UM system has provided indispensable service in helping our state, and the Kansas City area, move forward. We have challenges now, as we have in the past and will certainly face in the future. But our mission of education, research, economic development and service has been making Missourians proud for generations. Our university is as strong as ever and will always be a beacon of hope for our state’s young people.
Michael Middleton is interim president of the University of Missouri system.