The Engagement Ring

Talent, Innovation and Place -- All About APLU's IEP Designation

Episode Summary

Alvaro J. Muñiz, J.D., director of the Office of International, Community, and Economic Engagement (CECE) at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), discusses the Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation (IEP), a program that helps institutions of higher education better know, measure, tell, and enhance their economic and community development impact. Mr. Muñiz shares the steps in the application process and highlights the key benefits of being designated as an IEP university or college.

Episode Notes

Alvaro J. Muñiz, J.D.

Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities

Innovation & Economic Prosperity Universities (IEP)

Commission on Economic & Community Engagement (CECE)


Episode Transcription

The Engagement Ring, Episode 13: Talent, Innovation and Place

Becoming an Innovation & Economic Prosperity University – A Conversation with AlvaroMuñiz of APLU

[Lively, upbeat theme music plays as program host Mary Hunt introduces the program and plays excerpts from her interview with Alvaro J. Muñiz.]

ANNOUNCER/MARY HUNT: Welcome to the Engagement Ring, your connection to an ever widening network of higher education professionals, scholars, and community partners, working to make the world a better place. I'm Mary Hunt. Today on the podcast…

ALVARO MUÑIZ: I-E-P designation definitely is a mark of excellence for a university.

ANNOUNCER/MARY HUNT: Alvaro Muñiz, director for international community and economic engagement at A-P-L-U explains why achieving the association's innovation and economic prosperity designation is a smart strategy for institutions that want to stand out in the higher education landscape.

ALVARO MUÑIZ: The I-E-P program helps universities engage not just internally, but externally as well to understand the economic impact of their university both locally and regionally.

ANNOUNCER/MARY HUNT: Why and how to apply, and what to expect during the application process... Here's my conversation with A-P-L-U’S Alvaro Muñiz. Welcome to the podcast, Alvaro.

ALVARO MUÑIZ: Thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure being here.

[Program introduction ends, and interview begins]

MARY HUNT: I have a lot of things I'd like to ask you about -- economic development and community engagement… about A-P-L-U’S role in supporting universities that are interested in working with their communities in those ways. But first, let's talk a little bit about A-P-L-U, its mission and its work.

ALVARO MUÑIZ: Sure. So A-P-L-U is the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, and we were founded in 1887. We are North America's oldest higher education association. We are a research policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, with a membership of 251 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems and affiliate organizations across all 50 states. A-P-L-U’s agenda is built on three pillars of one, increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research, and finally expanding engagement.

MARY HUNT: What is a land grant-university?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: So a land grant college or university is an institution that has been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morill Acts of 1862 to1890 and 1994. The original mission of these institutions as set forth in the first Morill Act was to teach agriculture, military tactics and the mechanic arts as well as classical studies so members of the working class could obtain a liberal practical education. And if you're wondering, Cornell University serves as New York's land-grant institution

MARY HUNT: And University at Albany is a public university, part of the state university system and members of A-P-L-U as well. Your work is focused in the Commission on Economic and Community Engagement – C-C.Can you tell me what C-C's work entails?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: C-C convenes senior university economic development and community engagement administrators, presidents and chancellors, provosts, senior research officers, cooperative extension leaders, communications and government affairs administrators and others across A-P-L-U member universities and university systems throughout North America who maintain responsibility for planning, executing or communicating their institutions work and economic development and public engagement. So quite a broad array of stakeholders right there.

MARY HUNT: What is your work in C-C?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: I oversee the Innovation and Economic Prosperity designation program, which is a program that was established to help higher education institutions strengthen their strategy and practices in economic and community development, while providing due recognition to institutions that are exemplary in their institution-wide commitment to regional economic engagement.

MARY HUNT: What is meant by the term economic development? It probably means a lot of things to a lot of people but when we're looking at it, through the perspective of a university engaging with partners…

ALVARO MUÑIZ: What is meant is how a university can be a servant leader creating the resources needed for you know, the economy to thrive in not just you know, within their town, but also their region, their state. And so, you know, when we talk about talent, innovation and place, right, a university is best positioned to create to achieve success in these areas. You know, because when we talk about talent, you have world class faculty and experts being able to understand the changes in skills that companies are looking for, and be able to adapt their curriculums to meet these workforce needs and also be able to have resources to retrain employees as well because you are going to, you are seeing shifts where you no longer have a linear career path, but you're going through multiple different career paths along your lifespan. When it comes to innovation, right, it's about number one partnering with your stakeholder, employers and companies in not just your city, but also across the region, seeing what are their needs, in terms of workforce, but also in terms of R & D and seeing who in your university is capable of creating solutions and finding opportunities to innovate in terms of new technologies, and then being able to position your university to also receive federal grants. And then when we talk about place and stewardship, it's about number one, being able to be a partner in your community, you know, excellent town-gown relations is very important, not just with your local government, but also with the residents surrounding the community, making sure that residents who are not attending your university feel a sense of pride and accessibility to the university, and making sure that the university can provide opportunity to those who may not have received it in the past. And I think that is what is very important.

MARY HUNT: How can higher education help to strengthen our communities and create opportunities in terms of community development?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: You know, universities serve in many places as anchor institutions, supporting not just students attending the university, but their communities overall. And the best way to do this, you know, based on our principles here at A-P-L-U and C-C are through diverse programs in the areas of talent Development, research and Innovation and stewardship of place because by succeeding in these areas, the communities and regions universities serve will realize sustained advances in e-commerce, prosperity and quality of place because they become increasingly attractive, not just to students, but to entrepreneurs and innovators, businesses, investors, and highly skilled job seekers. After you've seen over the past few years, as people migrate all over the country during COVID, a lot of entrepreneurs started setting up in college towns, because it provides all the great amenities you'd expect in a large city but at a more affordable rate with a lot more youthful energy. And so there's a lot of attraction in building a great community that provides talent, opportunity and cultural and community amenities.

MARY HUNT: Tell me when I-E-P was developed, and when did you offer the designation to universities?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: This was created in 2013. And it was developed as a place to provide recognition to universities. And so over time, and this predates all my time at A-P-L-U, they decided that, you know, the three pillars and foundation of the IP program should be those areas of talent, innovation, and place, because they work as both independent and linked efforts within higher education’s economic development environment. So, when an institution has active and effective programs in all three realms, and in their intersections, the institution is achieving what we may call high impact engagement. So, we can see this as a Venn diagram with talent, innovation, and place, but where the real impact happens is at those intersections and then right at the middle. So, some examples along the outer edges are you know, in talent, you have professional degrees and experiential learning. In innovation, you get to research and tech transfer. Ah, places -- recreation and cultural amenities. But then when you get to the intersection, like intersection of talent and place, you have students civic engagement and service learning programs, talent/innovation cultivates entrepreneurship, education programs, and innovation/place are things like incubators, and accelerators. And then when you get to that real sweet spot of talent/innovation/place, that includes university land-grant cooperative extension programs, manufacturing extension programs, and social entrepreneurship initiatives.

MARY HUNT: What does acknowledgement as an I-E-P institution.. what benefit or what advantage is there to a university of achieving that?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: One of the major benefits is the process itself. So it's kind of like training for a marathon. It's not so much about the result, or the result you get the race, but the result you get in your personal health and wellness. Just by training for a marathon and you're, you're really improving your overall health and it's similar for a university. Universities, particularly public universities, tend to be very decentralized. And departments may not be communicating with one another, even if they're only separated by a few feet from each other. And so the I-E-P program helps universities engage not just internally, but externally as well to understand the economic impact of their university both locally and regionally. And additionally, universities can enter into a community of practice with peer institutions who've also received the designation. So they can share lessons learned, opportunities, and they can learn from one another. And also, studies have shown that I-E-P universities have produced higher lab-to- market outputs compared to similar public universities. And most recently, this year numerous universities who both received the designation and also applied for the designation submitted successful Build Back Better Regional Challenge Applications.

MARY HUNT: What are the steps in a university applying for I-E-P?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: The whole application process typically takes about 16 to 36 months, under normal conditions. A lot of universities took a little bit longer to complete the application due to complications caused by COVID-19. And so we gave everyone an extra one-year extension to complete the application, kind of similar to how the NCAA also expanded eligibility for all athletes by one year. And so, you know, the universities that are seeking designation are first encouraged to reach out to me to have a conversation about why they're pursuing the designation so I can answer any questions they may have. And they're encouraged to first of all, that's the first step is identify two administrators to serve as contacts and build out an internal team. They essentially serve as a steering committee for their application. And then over the ensuing months, universities go through a discovery phase, where they gather information about current plans and programs, identify internal university stakeholders, and external community stakeholders. And once they've identified these stakeholders, they should meet with them to conduct surveys, focus groups and other interviews, to help them identify their strengths, gaps and opportunities. And once they've utilized all the insights from this discovery phase, they can create a growth and improvement plan where they continue to make adjustments as conditions change in the campus and ecosystem, because it's a process of continuous improvement. And then universities have the option of submitting their application either for peer feedback, or for designation. And universities who submit for feedback could utilize this peer review to improve their application prior to submitting for designation. But I’d say the real key is the growth and improvement plan. Because as I mentioned earlier, it is about continuous improvement, because over the years, and over a few months, a lot of things could change in a community, in a university. And you need to always be documenting how you adapt to these changes, how you then plan to support, you know, changes that can be whether new residents arrive, bringing in new businesses, whether it's, you know, new administrators as well, a change in strategy in the university's strategic plan. And so it's always about how do you adjust your economic engagement plans around these changes?

MARY HUNT: I know at the university at all, it was a very lengthy process and inclusive process. The folks that were leading the effort reached out not only to our external stakeholders, but to internal stakeholders -- university students, faculty, staff – for their input, and it's also an education process, because not everyone understands the role of the university in terms of community engagement. So there's a lot to be learned internally to do. Do you hear that from the universities that are involved in the process? They're surprised at what they learn about themselves.

ALVARO MUÑIZ: Yeah, I would say so. We’ve had a lot of universities that have pursued the designation. So it may, you know, let's say we had one administrator at one university who was involved in the I-E-P process, and they then moved to another university. They'll look to see if they could bring the I-E-P designation to that university because they saw value in the process of just learning about all their different programs and initiatives at a university and being able to have alignment across the board. I think that is one of the biggest challenges universities face, especially public universities -- that alignment across departments, across the strategic plan. And even knowing who different individuals are at university. You have hundreds and hundreds of employees all over, you know, spread out across multiple square miles of a campus. You can work there for multiple years, and never meet them, unless you have a large meeting or a big event. And so this, this helps encourage universities to engage with different departments. It could be anywhere from student services, to department athletics, to advancement to the foundation to government and local relations, and different colleges as well. And so this is a great way of assessing where your university is, and where you want to go.

MARY HUNT: Also, it’s a really good exercise to get the feedback from your community, the folks that you are partnering with on projects, and the general public about how they view the university, your role and how you're performing in that role. You talked about the value. So aside from doing the self-assessment and realizing your strengths, and maybe the weaknesses that you have to improve on, what other value is there in achieving I-E-P? Are there opportunities that are available to universities, through A-P-L-U, or partners with A-P-L-U, whether it's grants or research opportunities, what other things may come your way and may be open to you if you're an I-E-P university?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: Well, you know, the I-E-P designation definitely is a mark of excellence for a university. And so number one is the work and how you can then utilize the work that went into the application, and then position it for federal grants, whether it's through N-S-F or the [?] administration. And so that is a very important aspect of it. You know, we also, it also puts you into that community of practice where you're amongst your peers, and having that ability to learn from one another is incredibly important. But it's also about creating a… essentially how I would describe it is you're creating a foundation to react and adapt to sudden changes. A great example is during the COVID 19 pandemic, numerous universities were able to support their regions, whether it was through mobilizing treatments for COVID 19, developing food distribution that was to prevent food shortages, manufacturing P-P-E and spinning out mRNA vaccine distribution technology companies. And it creates this framework for activating your regional network to develop local solutions to global challenges.

MARY HUNT: How many universities currently have the I-E-P designation?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: So ah, 80 universities have received the I-E-P designation since the program was first created in 2013. Nine universities received designation this year, including Albany. Joining them were Georgia Southern University; Towson University; UCLA; University of Minnesota, Crookston; UNC at Wilmington; University of Wisconsin, Madison; Virginia Commonwealth University; and Wichita State University. And we have about 35 plus universities are also currently seeking designation at the moment.  We have a panel of three reviewers who oversee your designation application, and they assess whether you have hit certain benchmarks on economic engagement. But I think a big part of this program is a chance for the university to tell a story. This is not you, know, an advertisement. This is not, you know, an opportunity, let's say for Albany to go down the street to their state capitol, and, you know, market its accomplishments and research by saying, you know, we raised X amount of dollars in research and graduated X number of students. It's not about that. It's really about the overall impact that Albany is having in their community, both economically, both within the workforce within also the stewardship of place. And so that is what matters. It's really that storytelling because it's a lot more powerful and it connects across the board with stakeholders of all backgrounds.

MARY HUNT: So I'm glad you mentioned that because I think that is very Important. Every university will tackle the same application. But the applications will be different because everyone has a different story to tell. And everyone comes from a different community with unique needs. 

ALVARO MUÑIZ: Yeah. Different types of universities apply for designation. So it can be anything from flagships to land-grants to urban universities -- small, regional universities as well. You know, one of the great things about this program is that you do not have to be an A-P-L-U member to apply for designation. We're also open to non-member universities. This is done through our partner the University Economic Development Association. You can apply through that association and by submitting a participation fee.

MARY HUNT: What interested you in this work, Alvaro?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: Well, it's kind of interesting for me because… I kind of fell into this work. I graduated from law school right in the middle of the great recession when there wasn’t much opportunity. And I was looking for other ways to engage beyond the legal field, which was just absolutely destroyed by the recession. And so I went back to my hometown of Miami, and I started working in local politics. And I ended up starting my career as a deputy chief of staff in the Miami Dade Board of Commissioners. And in the district court where I worked was Florida International University, which is the anchor institution in Miami. It's the fourth largest public university in the United States. And at that time in Miami, the startup and tech community was taking place. And I was doing a lot of work with them as well. And so through my work with F-I-U and the startup and entrepreneurship community in Miami, I started working to bridge those two areas and create opportunities for one another and do initiatives around workforce development and in technology and economic development. And so all of this was taking place, it got me really interested in this work. And then I moved to Washington, DC, and I worked at an international NGO focused on social entrepreneurship. And I did that for about three years. I did some initiatives about workforce development, especially around social mobility. And that was what really kind of got me interested in creating opportunity for others and finding, you know, where there are challenges how we could create solutions to these challenges. And then I, you know, wanted to get into higher education, because I kind of enjoyed my time doing community relations and working with large public universities. So I went to work at George Mason University for three and a half years where I did strategy in the provost’s office and worked on issues around student access and, and graduation, workforce development as well, and really enjoyed it. And then this past year, I joined A-P-L-U, because it kind of felt that, you know, my position will be a culmination of all my prior experience, you know, working in talent, working in innovation, and working in place. And so it was a perfect opportunity and I'm very glad to be here now and get to work with universities all across the United States and Canada, Mexico, and help them really build out their strategy and engagement as well.

MARY HUNT: I thought it was interesting in your bio to read about one of your aspirations is to visit all the major league baseball parks and the presidential museums. It's a really neat hobby. How many of each have you visited, and how many actually are there?

ALVARO MUÑIZ: So, there are 30 baseball stadiums. I've been to 20 of them. I have 10 more to go. I think I've done the majority of the East Coast and Midwest. The West is a little bit harder for me, seeing as I live out in Washington, DC. And so that's something I want to accomplish, you know, hopefully by the decade, but they're always building new stadiums, and then that has forces me to visit the new ones. For example, I've only been to the old Yankee Stadium. I haven't been to the new one. Okay. 

MARY HUNT: Same here I haven’t been to the new one either.

ALVARO MUÑIZ: Yeah, I’ve been to Citi Field in, you know, for the Mets, but I haven't been to the new Yankee Stadium. And then when it comes to presidential libraries, I've been to eight of them. I think there's around… that are recognized by the national park system, I think there is around 13. So I have a few more to go. I always commemorate my visits When I go to a baseball stadium, I have a buy a cap of the home team. So I have about 20 caps. And then I always remember by presidential library visits by getting a bobblehead of the President.

MARY HUNT: Very nice. Do you have a favorite park and/or a favorite presidential museum so far? 

ALVARO MUÑIZ:I have to say that they're all wonderful, especially when it comes to the presidential libraries. You learn a lot about each president and their background, and you know, what they accomplished in office and what made them seek office. I think it's a wonderful learning experience. And when it comes to baseball stadiums, it's I would say, I have to say the best stadium by far is Wrigley Field. I've been to every type of game you can imagine in that stadium. I've been to a Friday afternoon game. I sat in the bleachers. I sat in those townhouses outside the stadium where I could just oversee from the outfield. And it's just a great experience and a great neighborhood. You know, it's very classic. I would say, of all the new modern stadiums, I would have to say Camden Yards in Baltimore is probably the best one. It was kind of the one that changed baseball stadium construction forever in the United States. And what is incredible about it, it opened up in 1991 and it held up very well. And the sightlines are amazing. The view is amazing and just a great stadium and great atmosphere too.

(Theme music begins to play under the interview)

MARY HUNT: Yeah, presidential libraries, and you know, ballparks -- all A big part of our communities and identity, and as you say, telling our story. Well, I wish you good luck in getting to all of the libraries and all the parks, and I wish you good luck with C-C.  So safe travels as you visit those landmarks. And thank you for your work on behalf of universities. And thanks for being my guest today, Alvaro.

ALVARO MUÑIZ: Oh, thank you so much, Mary. It's great having Albany join the I-E-P designation program, too, so congratulations to them.

MARY HUNT: Thanks! We're really excited and proud. So thank you. 

ALVARO MUÑIZ: All right. Thank you. 

ANNOUNCER/MARY HUNT: Alvaro Muñiz directs the Office for International Community and Economic Engagement at the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. Watch Twitter for news and information from A-P-L-U related to economic development and community engagement at A-P-L-U engagement or visit A-P-L-U’s website at a-p-l-u dot org. The engagement ring is produced by the University at Albany's Office for Public Engagement. If you have questions or comments or want to share an idea for an upcoming podcast, email us at UAlbany o-p-e- at Albany dot e-d-u.