MSU believes in community

Guest column published in the Lansing State Journal June 22, 2023

We believe the threads of town and gown are strengthened when intertwined into a tapestry of neighbors and friends. 

We believe, quite simply, in the power of collaboration — of working side by side with the Lansing region to uplift our citizens, prepare the workforce of tomorrow and ensure sustained prosperity.

To strengthen our community, we often ask ourselves and we have asked you: What can we and the Lansing region uniquely do together that we could never do working apart? As interim president of Michigan State University, I think of that challenge as one of purpose, placemaking and partnerships.

MSU’s purpose is clear: to present extraordinary opportunities to people that can help transform their lives. We do this through our three-part mission of teaching and learning, research and innovation, and outreach and engagement. And we bring a lot of scale to this work, including enrolling over 50,000 students and serving as one of the largest employers in mid-Michigan. In Ingham, Clinton, Eaton and Shiawassee counties alone, we create over $3 billion in total economic impact, spend over $140 million with local businesses and have over 70,000 alums.

Our purpose complements beautifully the goals laid out in the first State of the Lansing Region Benchmarking Report, which was produced by our partners at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and Lansing Area Economic Partnership. We share the vision of “a more prosperous, innovative, diverse and exciting future” and commit to leveraging such strengths as MSU’s research investments and seizing opportunities to expand educational attainment and nurture entrepreneurial activity.  

MSU and the Lansing region’s common purpose translates to placemaking in service to the larger community — along with an understanding that a 21st-century workforce requires 21st-century facilities. Our new, state-of-the-art health education building, for example, will include high-tech spaces for simulation and anatomy, better preparing the future doctors, nurses and veterinarians who will care for our loved ones and animals at such places as Sparrow, McLaren and local primary care and veterinary clinics.

Likewise, our planned engineering and digital innovation center will support student learning across six colleges and meet industry needs in high-tech areas such as computer science and engineering, cybersecurity, mobility, artificial intelligence, user experience, game development and data science while offering space for approximately 50 research teams plus research and development facilities.

MSU’s commitment to placemaking is tightly interlaced into the last “p”: partnerships. As I outlined at a recent Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club presentation, the scope of MSU’s engagement with community partners is vast — hundreds of local programs, from supporting local schools with leadership development and classroom volunteers, interns and trained teachers; to medical and nursing school faculty members staffing hospitals and clinics; to funding and other opportunities available through MSU’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Local engagement has been a defining and ongoing feature of this university. Consider our award-winning public broadcasting service, WKAR, which is building on its 100 years of service with plans to extend its educational services to underserved families in the Lansing area. Or MSU’s Child Development Laboratories, offering local preschool programs since 1927, with a new location in Lansing being planned to join those in East Lansing and Haslett.

Think too about MSU’s Center for Community and Economic Development, which we intentionally located in Lansing back in 1969. It continues to partner closely with the community and its neighborhoods, such as cohosting the yearly "Thinkers and Doers" event that brings together key stakeholders and members of the MSU and east-side Lansing communities to learn about topics of current interest.  

Or think about our partnership with Lansing Community College, which is creating a smooth transfer pathway for students from LCC to MSU, or the many pre-college programs and opportunities extended through partner high schools.

Meanwhile, our Facility for Rare Isotope Beams produced two local spin-off businesses, Niowave and Ionetix, which are leveraging our technology for medical and industrial uses and helping inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers through local school engagement. And our Community Engagement Scholars Program and our 92 most active student volunteers provided last year close to 20,000 hours of local service, equaling nearly $600,000 in value to their area partner organizations.

Finally, the drive-through clinic at the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education administered nearly 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines between 2020 and 2021 in a partnership between MSU, the Ingham County Health Department, other agencies and hundreds of campus and community volunteers.

There are many more examples to share, but my point is simply this: MSU and the Lansing region’s shared purpose, place and partnerships equal more than the sum of our parts and catalyze a vibrant community for all our citizens. So, let’s build on this momentum and continue to believe in one another, leaning into community and collaboration to foster even more opportunities.  

Supporting our region supports our university, and vice versa. That is why I have asked April Clobes, the extraordinary CEO of the MSU Federal Credit Union, to co-chair a working group with me called BELIEVE: Bringing Excellence to Lansing through Investment, Empowerment, Vision and Energy. The MSUFCU is an engaged partner with the university and the community and, alongside our partners at the chamber and LEAP, we look forward to exploring new ideas and projects as we envision a future woven from ideas both great and small.

This tapestry requires each of us, both to weave and to inhabit. Let us BELIEVE in our potential to create something new, together. 

Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., is Michigan State University's interim president and an MSU Research Foundation Professor