This is the first in a series of interviews about Marquette’s new Office of Corporate Engagement.
President Michael R. Lovell in his January 2018 campus address announced the formation of a new Office of Corporate Engagement, calling it critical to the university realizing its vision to be among the most innovative and accomplished Catholic, Jesuit universities in the world.
Developing the office was the unanimous recommendation of the President’s Task Force on Corporate Engagement at the end of last year. In advance of the office’s opening, Marquette Today sat down with three members of the task force to talk a bit more about why an Office of Corporate Engagement is important to Marquette’s future.
Following are excerpts from the interview with Dr. Kris Ropella, Opus Dean of Engineering and chair of the search committee for the new office’s vice president; Dr. Doug Fisher, director of the Center for Supply Chain Management; and Dr. Rosemary Stuart, associate dean for planning in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences and professor of biology.
Various departments and disciplines across campus are already engaged with corporations in one way or another—why is centralizing this function important?
Kris Ropella: Because we don’t often have good communication between various areas of the university that are engaged with corporations in one fashion or another. Doug has a lot of people on his board that we in engineering might not even be aware of, maybe the same companies that we’re interacting with in different ways through co-ops and internships. It can become very disjointed at times —you hear “so-and-so is having conversations with that company” and we didn’t even know about it. If there were more of a concerted effort and we knew about each other’s activities, we could go after a greater vision for how that partnership might look.
Doug Fisher: There’s a subtle difference between me going out and getting to know a company’s supply chain organization and trying to find what I want in their eyes, as opposed to a corporate engagement office that asks, “What are your needs, Blank Corporation? Let me see if I can organize the university’s resources to respond to them.” That’s a much better way to proceed.
Rosemary Stuart: In terms of talent development, the needs of the job market are changing, the needs of the employers are changing and how employers are looking to connect with students is changing. The days of looking for that tech-only student are gone; the days of looking for the engineering-only student are gone. Employers are looking to come and brand themselves on campus but also to connect with students from across disciplines. And if we continue to work as a university with our own little silos, then we’re not going to maximize and enhance the opportunities for our students. We need to break down these silos, encourage more collaboration and more transparent and clear communication between various offices. I think an Office of Corporate Engagement can be sensitive to and aware of all the different skills and talents that are on this campus, and then orchestrate strategic connections.
How do we develop a new Office of Corporate Engagement in ways that are authentically Marquette? How do we put our stamp on this and do corporate engagement differently from any other university?
KR: We first must decide the outcomes that we hold this office to, and determine how those outcomes align with our mission as a university, our vision and how we’re moving forward. I think we need to identify those parameters by which we’re going to evaluate the effectiveness of this and how impactful it is and the difference it’s making versus what we’re going now.
DF: The person who is picked to lead the office is critical. It’s not a book of rules and regulations, it’s not how we’re going to reorganize — it’s that persona. This individual must be credible in the corporate environment and credible in the academic environment, because that’s where most of our internal disruption will be. The leadership is a function of, “I may not like your decision, but I respect you; therefore, I will follow you.” That, as opposed to someone holding an office and a chair and a title and telling me what to do. Leadership is critical; leadership matters.
KR: I think about a conversation I had with a corporation that we have a good partnership with and they once said to me, “We go to Purdue for thermodynamics, and we go to UWM for fluids. What do we go to Marquette for?” And I said it’s about leadership. So, I take them to a different place. I think one of the other things we look at are the missions of these corporations. If we’re not just chasing dollars, some of these corporations we have no business partnering with. I don’t care what dollar sign they wave in front of us: There are some corporations we need to walk away from because we’re not aligned with them, they’re not part of our mission and they just don’t sync with us. I think we need to have a lot of integrity in that, and not just sell out.
RS: I think our mission as a Catholic, Jesuit university has to drive everything. It cannot be solely for money — but of course, let’s not be naïve, that’s definitely part of building relationships with corporations. I think the individual leader, as Doug said, needs to have a firm understanding of the corporate world and the academic world. He or she really needs to have a firm understanding of what a Catholic, Jesuit university is, as well as the diversity of the university. If a corporate engagement leader thinks only in terms of — and no offense to the colleges of business and engineering — business and engineering, I think there are going to be so many missed opportunities.
What happens if Marquette doesn’t develop an Office of Corporate Engagement?
DF: Then each of us will continue to do our own thing and that’s counterproductive.
KR: Yes, we’ll do our own thing, and once again, we’ll be at the tail end of all the other universities who are thinking about this and setting up real partnerships this way and doing a good job because of centralization.
RS: Times are changing. We need to serve our students. We have to be responsible, we have to give them a return on investment for their education. And that means not only giving them a great education, but also positioning them well to go into that next step of their life. And that means jobs. We need to get jobs, we need to get employers here, we need to do it in a way that honors all of the colleges on campus and brings employers access to students throughout the entire university.
Watch Marquette Today for more from Drs. Ropella, Fisher and Stuart on the new Office of Corporate Engagement.