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  • Where Innovation Happens

    Dear Colleagues:

    Thanks to Director Laura Frerichs, I had a stunning tour of our Research Park where I met a young man, a graduate of ours who, although unique in his passions and interests, exemplifies so many of our graduates. He represents the reason we work so hard to maintain our ambitious vision to improve the quality of life for our students and for the planet.

    The young man's name is Jonathan Naber, a recent graduate from our Department of Materials Science and Engineering, last year's winner of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, and President and Founder of the non-profit organization Illini Prosthetic Technologies (IPT), housed in the Research Park. IPT's mission is to deploy a highly affordable, off-the-shelf, and ready-to wear below-the-elbow prosthetic arm for people living in developing nations, where 80 percent of amputees live.

    What struck me about Jonathan and, in fact, about one of our Research Park’s strengths, was this: he said he doesn’t need to move out of this area to launch his company because everything he needs is right here.

    Thomas Friedman recently wrote about where the new American ecosystems of innovation will be located. He said they will contain an abundance of human capital. “The best of these ecosystems will be cities and towns that combine a university, an educated populace, a dynamic business community and the fastest broadband connections on earth. These will be the job factories of the future.”

    In Jonathan’s case, the Research Park is a vital intersection of innovation where faculty members serve as mentors and PIs on his grant proposals. In turn, Illinois students are available for internships while adding value through their intellect and idealism and gaining crucial experience for their own future careers, and where innovations can blossom.

    Jonathan speaks with passion about his Illinois education, and he says he was inspired by the incredible history we have for supporting people with disabilities and for developing products that make learning accessible to people with disabilities. Two of the three runners up for the Lemelson Student Prize from the University of Illinois also had worked on innovations and inventions for people with disabilities. This is a uniquely U of I DNA.

    It’s so true that we are an economic engine for the state of Illinois and, indeed, for the nation and the planet. We are also a quality of life engine. We are the source of discovery translated into information, translated into knowledge, and translated into applications that make this world a better place for its citizens to live in. We are a public university serving the public good through learning, discovery, and engagement.

    Looking forward to the new semester,



    Around the Campus: On December 14, the Visioning Illinois’ Retreat took place at the I Hotel and Conference Center. Deans, directors, faculty members, and others came together to review the processes and accomplishments of Stewarding Excellence and Strategic Planning, and to begin to identify elements for this university’s future 20 years hence. I will write a more detailed summary of this retreat in this space, but I will say now that it was an extremely productive day. Stay tuned.