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Originally published Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 4:37 PM

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Guest: How the University of Washington plans to lead Puget Sound innovation

If the state is to continue to lead the way in innovation, the University of Washington needs to be a prime driver, writes guest columnist Michael K. Young.


Special to The Times

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IN the Puget Sound, we consider ourselves leaders and innovators. After all, we designed and built the planes that revolutionized the aerospace industry and changed the world; gave birth to culture-defining companies like Microsoft, Nordstrom and Starbucks; pioneered the online experience through Amazon.com and Expedia; and advanced global development through organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH. Seattle set the standard in the field of technology and demonstrated the value of living lives with corporate and social purpose.

It is in this innovative and thriving Northwest environment that we in higher education must stay relevant, continue driving our region forward and lead through innovation. At the University of Washington, we are building on our long-standing work in this arena through our “Innovation Agenda,” which I am outlining Friday at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Regional Leadership Conference. Our goal is to ensure that our students get the meaningful, real-world experiences and global perspectives that will prepare them to contribute to solving the world’s most daunting challenges.

One great example in how higher education can become a more powerful driver of innovation is by turning the University District into an “innovation hub.” That’s why we recently launched Startup Hall, a partnership between the UW and three local startup leaders — Founder’s Co-op, Techstars Seattle and UP Global. Startup Hall is a proving ground where local entrepreneurs can dare to discover, ignite new ideas and test their visions. It is but one part of our ambition to help our region continue to advance as one of the country’s top hotbeds for innovation.

Another opportunity involves deepening our partnerships, locally and globally. Right now, we are in negotiations with top research universities from throughout the world to participate in what will be a new and exciting destination for the world’s top talent while simultaneously engaging Washington students in solving some of the globe’s biggest design and technology challenges. This center in Bellevue would attract visionary faculty and exceptional students to our region from around the world and provide hands-on projects for UW students with leading organizations and companies such as Microsoft, which is a founding partner. Our intent is to establish a growing collaboration of leading universities, companies, foundations, governments and nongovernmental organizations worldwide as the project grows.

Education must also do more to support our students’ careers and our state’s thriving innovation economy. It is unacceptable that Washington students are not filling more of the jobs our technological companies now offer. At the UW, we plan to build a new computer-science facility that would double our degree capacity and ensure that students in non-computer science disciplines get an opportunity to take classes in this field. In the coming legislative session, the UW will ask the state Legislature as well as the private sector to help fund this new 130,000-square-foot building for our nationally ranked computer science and engineering program, allowing us to address the critical workforce shortage for our region’s technology sector.

These new approaches need to be baked into every corner of our university. That’s why we have appointed Vikram Jandhyala, a professor and former chair of electrical engineering, to vice provost of innovation — a new role. His focus is on infusing the innovation mindset that is a hallmark of the UW more directly into the student experience and expanding our impact in ways that go well beyond commercialization.

These are big plans and ambitious goals to change the way we approach higher education, yet I am confident we can be successful.

When Seattle hosted the World’s Fair in 1962, our region’s leaders could have just held an event. Instead, they built a monorail, created a city center and built a Space Needle that symbolized Seattle’s hopes for a new age. They put Seattle on the map.

Seattle knew then as we do now: We must be bold and work together to forge a path toward a bright future for our region. And as we have for decades, I believe the UW and other institutions of higher learning are uniquely positioned to help lead the way.

Michael K. Young is the president of the University of Washington.



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