June 28, 2007
By MEGAN JAMES
MIDDLEBURY — Five years into his role as president of the University of Vermont, Dan Fogel stressed in an interview this week at the Addison Independent offices that creating jobs for the larger community, including Addison County, is as important to his research university as attracting and retaining students.
The key to achieving this, he said, is to bolster an academic environment that encourages the development of entrepreneurial projects, from students and faculty alike, that fit into “Vermont’s environmental brand” and sustainable technology niche.
Fogel’s plan complements the recently passed Next Generation legislation, in which the state appropriated $12 million in scholarships for Vermont students who attend Vermont institutions of higher education under the condition that they stay in the state for at least three years after getting their degrees. Fogel stressed that the university can play a key role in creating the employment opportunities those students will need after graduation.
Fogel pointed to UVM’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as an example of the kind of innovative breeding ground he hopes to develop throughout the university. In the last couple years, projects like The Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC), a public outreach and research center that works with numerous cheesemaking operations in Addison County, have begun to take hold in the larger community, he said.
VIAC works with Champlain Valley Creamery in Vergennes, Orb Weaver Farm in New Haven and Bingham’s Farm in Middlebury, among others, on researching technology, food safety production issues and quality issues. The institute’s goal is to give artisan cheese producers a “competitive edge” around the state, Fogel said.
Out of the same school came Natural Coatings, a company based in the Northeast Kingdom that produces whey-based products, including furniture and wood coating.
And researchers in UVM’s Nutrition and Food Sciences department even patented a diet program called Vtrim, which offers all its weight-loss programs online.
“The whole gestalt around the Next Generation idea is not that you just try to get kids to stay in the state for higher education, but you try to create opportunities for them to work here when they graduate,” Fogel said. “So we’re very focused on taking our intellectual property, whether it comes out of the work of students or scientific staff and faculty, and looking at what can be commercialized.”
This intellectual property will profit the university, of course, but that profit is integral to funding future initiatives that will create more jobs, Fogel said.
With this in mind, Fogel’s administration has created a structure called UVM Ventures, “a set of mechanisms and incentives to support members of the university community who have potentially marketable intellectual property,” he said. The program provides seed grants and innovation grants to students and faculty members with marketable ideas.
“The goal is to take these technologies and bring them to the point where they create valuable enterprises, where they create jobs,” he said.
Actualizing these projects will be a challenge, Fogel said, but with enough support he is confident the university will begin building an infrastructure that could lead to a switch in the state’s demographic.
“We’ve been on such a powerful trajectory for the past five years, that we really believe we’ve created very high expectations for the university and we’re going to have to work very hard to meet them.”