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magazine home > archives > spring 2003 > features

Partnerships at the U of M are creating advanced research opportunities and a strong work force for local industry while demonstrating the school's commitment to community needs.

Joining Forces
by Matt Timberlake

Student demonstrating eye gear

A student demonstrates equipment that is used to create more efficient Web pages.

FedEx Corporation founder Frederick W. Smith sees it; University of Memphis President Shirley Raines agrees. Now, dozens are following in their footsteps.

Partnerships. They are increasingly being recognized as what makes a university flourish.

In the past few years, more than 250 partnerships, including one that formed the FedEx Technology Institute, have been established between the U of M and various community organizations and businesses.

Partnerships enrich the U of M. Local firms take a responsibility in the quality of the University, and the University takes responsibility in the community. This creates a strong educational and research environment for faculty and students while at the same time strengthening the surrounding community.

"We want to build the most productive partnerships in which nonprofits, industry and government agencies are getting something from us and we in turn are getting something from them," Dr. Raines says. "We are addressing real problems that need to be addressed while preparing a new segment of the work force."

Scheduled to open this fall, the institute is a perfect example of how a small idea can mushroom into a major educational endeavor with multiple partners.

"When complete, this will be the research epicenter of the Mid-South," institute CEO Jim Phillips says.

With the help of partnerships within the institute, the Center for Multimedia Arts promises to be one of the most advanced digital post-production labs in the region. The Center for Artificial Intelligence will explore the furthest reaches of machine intelligence and software.

A recent $30.6 million software gift from EDS, made in the name of Wright Medical, is bolstering the research capabilities of the center. "By pulling together the sharpest thinkers in business with our professors, students and researchers, they will push each other to develop what's next," Phillips says.

Partnerships within the institute are just the tip of the iceberg. A $5 million union between Methodist Healthcare and the University has created a new program that focuses on health-care management and leadership. The Maurice Elliot Leadership Institute is allowing Methodist managers and administrators an opportunity to gain advanced certification levels.

"This is a sterling example of investing in people," Raines says.

The University is also taking an interest in children. Funded by a $2 million grant from LHS Inc., the U of M has established The Child Health Data Consortium. Researchers will collect, analyze, maintain, monitor and report health data about children throughout Shelby County. Health-care planners in the Mid-South will be able to use this data to better plan for children's health issues.

Also aimed at current members of the work force is a recent partnership between the U of M and Memphis City Schools. In October 2002, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a $983,227 "Teaching American History" grant that is allowing the University to strengthen the city's school system.

"Under this grant, the U of M is providing training for elementary and secondary teachers in traditional American history," says program director Kenneth Holland, chair of the University's political science department. Faculty from the U of M will conduct summer institutes over a three-year period for teachers from 80 area schools with the themes of rights and liberties.

The U of M also received another grant from the Department of Education for a different partnership, this time with Wright State and Ball State universities. Under a $200,000 grant, the three American schools have joined three European universities in the "Regions in Transition — Universities in Response" project. The consortium seeks to build a strong support network between universities in regions of Europe and the U.S. that are experiencing significant social, economic and technological change.

FETI construction
The FedEx Technology Institute will be operational later this year.

The grant will allow the University to exchange students in the fields of communications, management and public administration with its European partners: Germany's Jena University of Applied Sciences, Sweden's Umea University and Spain's Pontifical University of Salamanca.

"This grant greatly enhances the University's mission to internationalize the students, faculty and curriculum," says Holland, who is a project representative.

Another partnership at the University pairs the Department of Journalism with Memphis' largest newspaper, The Commercial Appeal. Local high school students have use of a classroom on the U of M campus to publish the citywide Teen Appeal newspaper. The University provides mentors for the students and conducts a one-week writing course. The Commercial Appeal contributes staff members to work with the students and prints and distributes the high school paper. About 1,300 students have participated in the program since it began in 1997.

The University also has joined with the Kemmons Wilson family to build a new academic area at the U of M — The Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management. Before he passed away, Wilson constructed the $15 million campus Holiday Inn that provides students majoring within the school a real-world working experience. By pairing with Wilson, the U of M has created a superior school with access to strong resources and a vital link to the industry.

Partnerships for the University are many. "What we ask is that something productive must come from this, not only in terms of the students being in these environments, but also that real problems are being addressed," says Raines.

By staying connected to the environment through these collaborations, the U of M will continue to thrive.

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