Tuesday, Sep. 21, 2010
Increased efficiency and improved opportunities to turn innovation into viable commercial successes is the impetus behind a major reorganization involving Utah State University’s research, commercialization and regional development activities.
A new structure was needed in order to refocus the university’s Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) efforts, as well as keep pace with expanding opportunities for commercial development and public/private partnerships, both in Logan and at the regional campuses, said USU President Stan L. Albrecht.
That means integrating commercialization activities, creating a new governance structure and facilities management team for USTAR and creating a commercialization review and coordinating council.
Rob Behunin, special assistant to the president and associate vice president for strategic ventures and economic development, will be named USU vice president over commercialization and regional development. In this new role, which begins in January, Behunin will coordinate all the university’s commercialization activities.
Albrecht said the most noticeable change under the new structure is an emphasis on treating USU commercialization opportunities and activities as a single USU asset. The university, Utah State University Research Foundation and USTAR efforts, in terms of commercialization endeavors, will come together in a more synergistic and collaborative fashion. This will allow faculty, students, researchers, scientists, industry, investors and the community to have access to the complete USU commercialization portfolio.
“Exciting things are developing,” Albrecht said. “Rob’s instincts and innovative approaches will allow us to be more proactive and better positioned to seize opportunities.”
Behunin will be responsible for regional campus commercialization activities, including seed projects at the Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center that celebrates a ribbon cutting Friday, Sept. 24.
In addition, Behunin will be responsible for the Commercialization and Regional Development Office and serve as a member of the USTAR executive committee. He will also collaborate with the Huntsman School Entrepreneurship Program and continue his work with the Uintah Impact Mitigation Special Service District.
Behunin said he views his role as a bridge builder. His main task is to unify the several commercialization entities now in existence under one, united program.
He brings with him seven years of on-the-ground experience working in the Uintah Basin. He helped forge critical partnerships where few existed in an effort to secure and protect existing resources, leveraging them to the benefit of the university and local communities.
Behunin’s method in the Uintah Basin has been a portfolio approach, aligning a variety of stakeholders and assets to create a stronger, more cohesive unit. He also brings considerable strength in the area of matching private enterprise with university know-how that ultimately yields new revenue streams for USU.
Several industry alliances Behunin has formed in the Uintah Basin and the region continue to grow. He led the charge on creating a formal alliance and memo of understanding with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory.
This relationship has proven highly beneficial in the development of a solid endeavor, the Eastern Utah Secure Energy Partnership and Program, from which USU can now launch further development of environmental, energy and educational development, Behunin said.
These efforts have resulted in collaborations with global industry networks and governments that will bring expanded opportunities for USU and its partners, he said.
“Bringing people and opportunities together in this way is President Albrecht’s vision,” Behunin said. “He has always envisioned one university, one student body and one faculty -- all in multiple locations and together creating a multitude of opportunities.”
Behunin said the unification of the commercial efforts and the new emphasis on research and commercialization outreach to regional campuses is Albrecht’s way of expanding USU’s land-grant profile and mission for the economic good of the state.
“I share and support that vision,” he said. “The Uintah Basin has been the test-bed for that vision and is now the model. This new effort promises to transform USU in significant ways in Logan and throughout the regional campus system as well.”
Albrecht said he spent the summer looking closely at everything the university is doing related to its extensive research and commercialization efforts. Not only did he see the need for greater coordination among the commercialization entities, he said he also saw the necessity to pull USTAR closer to the academic side of university governance and accountability.
As a result, USTAR-related hires will be affiliated with a specific college department and will be accountable, in part, to a college dean. In addition, a USTAR executive committee, chaired by the university’s chief academic officer, Provost Raymond Coward, has been formed to oversee all seven USU USTAR teams under three main categories: bioinnovations, earth and space innovations and energy innovations.
Albrecht said this change enables a more careful and thoughtful vetting of projects through increased involvement by the provost and deans.
“From space weather technology to biofuels, we are doing very well in our USTAR endeavors and having a great deal of success,” Albrecht said. “Under this new structure, the closer ties to academics and increased integration of commercialization will create new synergies and opportunities.”
The final piece of the reorganization’s new structure is the creation of the USU Commercialization Review and Coordinating Council. This council will be chaired by the university president but directed by the vice president for commercialization and regional development. It will consist of vice presidents and directors of various university research entities. They will meet periodically to ensure that the university’s commercialization activities are appropriately coordinated, that policies are being followed and that the driving interest behind any commercialization activity is for the benefit of the university, Albrecht said.
In advance of today’s announcement, three leadership changes were reported last week: Vice Provost and Dean for Graduate Studies Byron Burnham will be leaving USU in July 2011 for retirement. With this vacancy, Albrecht said the university will review the possibility of merging the dean of graduate studies with the duties of the vice president for research.
Also stepping down is Vice President for Research Brent Miller in July 2011 for a sabbatical leave. His position will be filled following a national search.
The Vice President for Strategic Ventures and Economic Development Ned Weinshenker is changing assignments in January of 2011 to become executive director and technology commercialization advisor for USU’s Innovation Campus.
Albrecht said he plans to share details about the reorganization in the next meeting of the Faculty Senate in October.
More on Behunin:
Behunin, born in California and raised in Cedar City, completed his undergraduate work at Southern Utah University and obtained a doctorate in medieval and renaissance literature from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
He was a tenured faculty member at SUU where he taught for nine years. During the latter part of his SUU tenure, he served as executive director of Distance Education. Beyond his academic experience, Behunin was widely involved in university and community development, working on various fundraising campaigns, capital development projects and community outreach.
In 2003, he assumed the post as associate executive director of the USU Uintah Basin Campus and, in 2006, became special assistant to the USU president. His accomplishments during this period:
- Worked closely with Albrecht, community leaders and others to leverage private and community resources that resulted in the opening of the Bingham Research Center with total investment from USU, local government, private donors and industry standing at nearly $100 million.
- Secured initial funding and brought together the team that collaborated with researchers from USU’s Energy and Space Dynamics Laboratories for cleaning wastewater at well sites, a technology that spun off into the commercial entity Purestream Technology.
- Played central role in helping to commercialize satellite technologies by working closely with Thermal Management Technologies (TMT), a Logan-based company and spin-out from USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory.
- Helped cultivate $6 million of investments into technology and commercial ventures at USU since 2008.
Contacts: President Stan L. Albrecht, 435-797-7172
Writer: John DeVilbiss, 435.797.1358; firstname.lastname@example.org