By Gabrielle Fimbres –
As Ann Weaver Hart leads the region’s largest public employer into the future, she envisions the University of Arizona as a mighty economic engine – one that partners with industry in innovation powerful enough to change the world.
“Partnering with our communities and our industries is a major theme for us moving forward,” said Hart, who has been at the helm of the university for nearly two years.
“We want to be the economic engine we know we can be.”
Hart is leading the university’s Never Settle strategic plan and the accompanying Arizona Now capital campaign – which aims to raise $1.5 billion over the next several years to support the ambitious goals of the plan. More than half has already been raised.
“It’s a unified approach and we hope it will lay the foundation for years to come for a very bold, very creative, very innovative new approach to a great university with a tremendous history,” she said.
Among Hart’s top goals:
• Doubling research expenditures – from about $600,000 to $1.2 million over the next decade
• Expanding the reach of the university’s land grant mission, bringing knowledge and information to industry and communities
• Creating more opportunities for students to learn and apply knowledge outside of the university walls in partnership with industry
“The University of Arizona is a super land grant university,” said Hart, UA’s 21st president. “We have research at a level recognized by the Association of American Universities – an elite collection of 63 American and Canadian universities recognized for their achievements. We fill a critical niche in the Arizona economy – and in the higher education community in the nation and the world.”
UA is poised to be a leader in partnering with industry with a common goal of a stronger economy and society, Hart said.
“We developed a framework that we believe captures both our tremendous tradition and a very proactive vision for the future in which we never settle for anything but the best in everything we do.”
The focus is on “a two-way active engaging between the learner and the learning leader, very tied into the many innovations that we are now using and that we see down the road that we think will be available.”
She said this engagement will be tied to faculty promotion and tenure.
“The application of new knowledge that we create through our research, scholarship and creative work to new and different settings and applications,” Hart said, “is now directly recognized as a contribution for the promotion and tenure criteria and the reward structure – which is very revolutionary for a research university with our level of achievement.”
She said the new strategy will result in business partnerships with industry to aid in the shift away from dependence on dwindling state funding.
“We are modeling our new vision of partnering after some really good examples that already take place at the university,” Hart said.
“The wonderful work that (the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) cooperative extension educators do with businesses around the state – from all kinds of turf grass for the golf industry to animal science and cattle growers, cotton growers, vegetable growers, leafy vegetable farmers in Yuma – all of that is mutually beneficial and interactive.”
She said other UA programs, including the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering, engage students in hands-on, real-world experiences in applying knowledge that result in 100 percent employment following graduation.
The Arizona Now capital campaign is a crucial part of Never Settle, Hart said.
“Philanthropy provides us with a partnership with philanthropists where we bring their passions and interests together with our capacity and talent. Together we do more than we would ever do on our own. Arizona Now is meant to communicate that urgency of Never Settle. We all need to be a part of this new University of Arizona.”
She said part of the vision is to secure funding before tackling new projects – much in the way VP for Athletics Greg Byrne planned for McKale Center’s current remodeling.
“We didn’t even begin that project until we had cash in hand from donors,” she said. “That’s a very different way of approaching our capital projects. When we plan a project now, every component of the private fundraising that is committed to the project must be upfront – so we don’t get ourselves in the position of starting a project, not raising the money and having to draw from other sources that would have been spent on the university.”
She said all departments must be on the lookout for opportunities to enter business relationships with industry partners for mutually beneficial collaboration.
“We must be constantly in motion, always scanning for opportunities to bring new ideas together in creative and different ways that capture the way Never Settle expresses our vision of the future and results in engaged learning on the part of students.”
This engagement will build leadership skills and opportunities to help prepare students for careers, Hart said.
Hart, the UA’s first female president, served as president of the University of New Hampshire and Temple University before leading the UA. She hails originally from Salt Lake City, and she and her husband, Randy, are the parents of four grown daughters.
She is frequently asked what advice she has for the next generation of women leaders.
“I emphasize the importance of recognizing that there are many paths to leadership,” Hart said.
“They should not be discouraged or be limited in their thinking about the opportunities that come their way – but should be constantly vigilant for unexpected opportunities that become available from unexpected directions.
“The key is to prepare themselves with the knowledge and skills they will need so that they are ready when opportunities come their way.”