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Regents' view: UMD STEM education and research fuel Minnesota economy

The University of Minnesota Duluth promotes Minnesota's economic prosperity through impactful research, strong industry partnerships and innovative, well-prepared graduates. UMD's Swenson College of Science and Engineering is a stellar example, p...

Dean E. Johnson
Dean E. Johnson
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The University of Minnesota Duluth promotes Minnesota’s economic prosperity through impactful research, strong industry partnerships and innovative, well-prepared graduates. UMD’s Swenson College of Science and Engineering is a stellar example, providing excellent science, technology, engineering and math education, or STEM education, to advance our state’s competitive edge nationally and internationally.
While UMD is uniquely positioned to achieve strong results for Minnesota, it needs adequate laboratory and classroom facilities. A $27 million university request to construct a Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science Building deserves the support of the Minnesota Legislature.
UMD STEM education and research is advancing the economy of Minnesota. For example, UMD’s Geospatial Analysis Center is working with eight undergraduate students to create a Solar Energy Potential Map for the city of Duluth. The project uses aerial photos of the city to map building footprints in order to understand the solar potential of buildings. In June, this project will culminate in a public web-based mapping application that will provide an assessment of solar resources for the university and Duluth.
In addition, UMD faculty and alumni collaborated to develop Tundra Cos., a Minnesota business specializing in the research, development and production of unique particle-polymer materials. Chemistry and biochemistry professor Bob Carlson worked with Tundra to create metal composites as commercial lead substitutes currently used in automotive, fishing and ballistic applications.
Unfortunately, UMD’s current chemistry and science building, constructed in 1948, is unable to support the technology, equipment and flexible spaces needed for today’s education and discovery. Laboratories and classrooms are crowded and outdated. Constrained bench space and restricted sightlines to instructors limit students’ learning opportunities. Chemistry classes are at maximum capacity with more than 5,500 students this year. In fact, limited capacity means more than 150 qualified STEM degree applicants are held on a waiting list each year.
We know a modern, updated building will help students realize their fullest potential, which ultimately benefits us all. A new 58,000-square-foot facility will include flexible wet and dry labs, modern utilities, environmental controls and safety accommodations to support all UMD STEM programs. The facility will boost STEM graduate numbers and enhance the school’s ability to attract top-notch faculty. It will allow UMD to foster programs with direct benefit to Minnesota industry through initiatives in pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences, energy, environmental science, mineral processing, computation and materials development.
In turn, research partnerships with corporations throughout Northeastern Minnesota will expand key industry sectors. Dedicated laboratories and collaborative space will facilitate the development of new technologies, improving efficiencies, reducing waste and finding innovative solutions.
What’s more, if the project is funded by the Legislature, we are poised to break ground on the building this summer, providing a quick stimulus to the Minnesota economy.
UMD’s STEM education and research will continue to drive Minnesota forward, but university faculty and students cannot achieve their outstanding potential confined by antiquated structures. We urge the Minnesota Legislature to soundly support this important initiative.

Dean E. Johnson of Willmar, Minn., is chairman and David McMillan of Duluth is vice chairman of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. They wrote this for the News Tribune.

David McMillan
David McMillan

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