Chancellor Ford Op-Ed: Parkside's Innovation Evolution

Published: February 16, 2021
By: Chancellor Debbie Ford

As UW-Parkside students, faculty and staff begin another semester, they do so with an eye on the future and furthering a campus-wide commitment to supporting the evolution of innovation in our region and beyond. Innovation is all around us. Yet innovation is nothing new.

In 1873, Racine newspaper stories reported local physician and reverend Dr. James Carhart driving around town in a steam-powered vehicle. At a 1908 Paris automobile exposition, Dr. Carhart was called the father of automobiles.

When Nash Motors was founded in 1916, few imagined that a car-maker based in Kenosha could out-innovate the Big Three in Detroit. But it did. Nash developed a heating and ventilation system that is still used today, and pioneered unibody construction and seat belts. Seems fitting that the exciting Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood is planned for the very site where Nash and later American Motors established an important presence in the world of auto manufacturing.

One of the goals for UW-Parkside back in 1968 was to assist area business and industry with innovation and technology. Another goal was to provide the region with ready and relevant talent by making higher education more accessible to all. Today, a bold goal for the university is to significantly increase the number of graduates in the next five years – especially for students of color. Why? Because our region is diverse and growing, and so is the need for ready, relevant, entrepreneurial, and innovative talent that is truly representative of southeast Wisconsin’s population.

To meet this bold goal, it is vital for UW-Parkside to be involved with initiatives like the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood and Racine’s Smart City strategy. In these two examples, and many others, UW-Parkside students, faculty and staff are committed to providing access to research and expertise. To demonstrate our commitment to join these new initiatives, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. George Vukotich as founding director for the UW-Parkside Center for Research in Innovation and Smart Cities. Dr. Vukotich will help establish important new partnerships between the university and entrepreneurial initiatives in our community. I appreciate the involvement of mayors John Antaramian and Cory Mason during the search and selection process.

Our new innovation center is just one piece to an already impressive legacy of UW-Parkside faculty research and innovation. Allow me to introduce Dr. Francis “Frannie” Mann, an associate professor of chemistry. WiSys, a statewide non-profit that supports the UW System and serves as a dedicated technology transfer office, honored Dr. Mann as the Carl E. Gulbrandsen Innovator of the Year for 2020. The award included a WiSys Ignite Grant that encourages UW System faculty and staff to apply their expertise in support of Wisconsin economic development. Dr. Mann is working with the Wisconsin agriculture industry on ways to harness the power of microbial secondary metabolism while engaging UW-Parkside undergraduate students in her research lab.

As an organization, WiSys is focused on academic technology transfer and technology commercialization in the UW System for the UW comprehensive campuses. In 2020 WiSys was listed as #2 in the nation for “Innovation Impact Productivity” for small research universities by the non-partisan George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University. I’m honored to serve on the WiSys Board of Trustees and especially proud to chair the WiSys Advisory Committee, a committee on which I have been a member since 2014.

Over the years, thousands of UW-Parkside students, faculty and staff – working in the Ralph Jaeschke Solutions for Economic Growth Center, our App Factory and GIS Factory, the Cyber Security Lab, and UW-Parkside Maker Spaces – have assisted businesses and organizations throughout the community developing ideas and providing new perspectives. I am confident these areas and others at the university will be key contributors as innovative projects move forward in our region.

Finally, there has always been some debate about the location selected for UW-Parkside. Would the region have been bettered served if the university was more centrally located in either Racine or Kenosha? For those not familiar with the story, UW-Parkside was the combination and expansion of two-year UW centers in each city. I have a hunch that the visionaries who championed the establishment of a four-year university in southeastern Wisconsin were well aware of the need to choose a location for a site that could serve both communities equitably and where we could all work and grow together. Today, that vision is paying dividends, especially when it comes to innovation and serving our business communities.

Innovation evolves, and innovation is all around us. I am confident that UW-Parkside will continue as a valued resource providing ready and relevant talent along with new ideas and valued perspectives. If you or someone you know has an idea or project where UW-Parkside might help, please contact my office at or call 262-595-2211.

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