As many already know in the IANR community and across UNL, the coming year will see the phase I development of the Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC) come fully to life. This has been over five years in the making since the Nebraska State Fair move first happened after its last staging in Lincoln in the summer of 2009. I arrived on the scene at UNL in July of 2010, and it seems like the planning and discussions around the NIC have been at the center of many hours every day since. So, to see the newly renovated former 4-H/FFA arena and the new “Innovation” building nearing completion for occupancy this summer is tremendously exciting. In fact, the first event to be held in the new conference center is now less than a month away – the UNL Research retreat being held by my good friend and colleague, Prem Paul.
It is also beyond words the excitement we all have surrounding the fact that in July 2015, the new Food Innovation Center, currently in its initial stages of construction to the south of the renovated 4-H/FFA arena, will open with the move of our entire Food Science and Technology Department to NIC. This is a huge opportunity for our programs in the area of food science, technology and “food for health” and is being built around an initial major partnership with ConAgra Foods, as well as a new developing alliance of major food companies in the food safety and sanitation arena and in future innovations in food manufacturing with the UNL College of Engineering. We have been at work in developing these plans with the department and ConAgra for the past 18 months and are now moving in to the next escalated phase of our work as 2015 draws ever closer.
Additionally, the initial construction is also underway for the first installment of a new greenhouse complex on NIC – to be located just to the east of the new Food Innovation Center. This facility will house the new automated plant phenotyping LemnaTec system – and we are deep into the final planning for its installation and full deployment as well in the months ahead.
As we have developed the NIC model and plans, it became clear to us we needed to make an investment in a leader who could help us to develop and nurture the kinds of strategic alliances that are envisioned for this first phase of NIC in the food, fuel, and water arenas. This also follows from a recommendation that initially came from our discussions and recommendations in the IANR to 2025 planning process in 2011 where this need for IANR was identified more generally for our programs in developing partnerships with private industry and other groups. Ironically, at the time of that planning, Dan Duncan, now NIC executive director, formulated that recommendation when he was serving as assistant dean of the Agricultural Research Division.
So, I am immensely pleased to announce we have successfully searched for and hired a new director of strategic alliances for food, fuel, and water who began work with the NIC team on April 14th. We are very fortunate to have attracted Ann Willet to this position. Ann brings a wealth of experience from the private sector where she served in a number of leadership positions with Novartis in strategic planning and implementation, research operations, and operational excellence. While at Novartis, she served as the leader of a national group of scientific liaisons who worked to build relationships with key opinion leaders and researchers. A native Nebraskan, Ann holds an MBA degree from UNL and a Pharm D from UNMC. Most recently, she has been a project director for us in the Agricultural Research Division of IANR, working with the USDA STEC CAP grant with Rod Moxley and his team, as well as coordinating on several other important projects within ARD, including our ongoing discussions with ConAgra Foods.
Ann will work directly with the team of Dan Duncan (NIC), Brad Roth (NUTech Ventures), and Ryan Anderson (UNL-ORED Corporate Relations) and will be located in the new Innovation Commons building of NIC when it opens, reporting directly to Dan and myself. I am tremendously excited to have Ann on our team and working every day as our key point person in developing public-private partnerships that will move our programs forward in exciting ways, focused initially in making phase I development of NIC a huge success, while looking forward to planning for phase II. She also will be working with IANR in an ongoing basis in development of partnerships that may not involve NIC.
We also just announced recently the appointment of Dr. Nick Brozovic, currently on the faculty at the University of Illinois-UC, as the director of policy for the Daugherty Water for Food Institute, effective July 1. I did cartwheels when we finalized Nick’s appointment as he is the right person, at the right time, for a critically important position for DWFI, and certainly for the future of water for food security. You can see more about his appointment at http://waterforfood.nebraska.edu/blog/2014/03/21/dr-nicholas-brozovic-to-join-the-daugherty-water-for-food-institute-as-director-of-policy/ . Nick will also be an active member of our agricultural economics faculty in the area of water policy – as you will learn from his record at UIUC and Imperial College-London. Coupled with Christopher Neale, DWFI director of research – we now have a highly talented on-the-ground team to lead our efforts forward! Congratulations to Roberto Lenton and all of the DWFI team for bringing Nick onto the team.
Strategic hires for strategic directions to do great things for the University of Nebraska and all we serve. These are exciting times, indeed, and every day I pinch myself in thinking about what lies ahead from the teams we are now building and have recently assembled. We are growing a healthy future, no doubt about it!
Welcome Ann – and we look forward soon to saying the same to Nick!