Professional News

Holistic business engagement helps UK fulfill land-grant mission

Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 9, 2023) — Depending on who you are, there are a few possible thoughts that come to mind when a business is mentioned on University of Kentucky's campus:

  • As a student completing your undergrad degree, you may have applied to work with them after graduation.
  • As a faculty member, you may be wondering if your subject expertise can help them solve problems through research collaboration.  
  • As a staff member working in philanthropy, perhaps you're processing a generous gift that will help sustain a university program that will benefit the company.

This is the power of UK’s business partnerships. This is holistic engagement.

The university looks to the Office of Business Engagement (OBE) to cultivate this vision. The OBE develops, coordinates and maintains relationships with businesses and organizations in order to find mutually beneficial opportunities. Through this, the university forms partnerships that will help fulfill the land--grant mission and help our students succeed.

A holistically engaged partner is a business or organization that interacts with the university in multiple ways and colleges. For example, an engaged partner might be the business that supplies our technology. A holistic partner, however, not only works with the university as a supplier but has a campus presence with a goal of hiring UK students.

“It is critical that the university is intentional in fully engaging a company in all areas,” said Kim Kluemper, director of the OBE. “If a business is only engaging with our students in one area or major, they may be missing out on the skills and expertise of our students in other areas — skills that would add to the diversity of talent and perspective in their organization.”

The purpose of holistic engagement is to match university resources to business's current and emerging needs to create mutually beneficial outcomes. This level of engagement is essential to the future of UK, and in turn, the Commonwealth.

From a research perspective, holistic engagement provides the opportunity to leverage expertise from across campus necessary to solve complex problems. It is important to note that over the past 10 years business and nonprofit investment in higher education R&D (research and development) has been growing at a faster rate than federal funding sources. And, of the federal funding programs, many are prioritizing industry partnerships. Nurturing our business partnerships needs to be an elevated priority.

“We have so much talent and resources here at UK and in our state, but unfortunately we rank in the lower 20th percentile in most U.S. industry R&D metrics," said Landon Borders, executive director of UK Innovation Connect. "I see this as a great opportunity to advance Kentucky, but to make strides here requires a tremendous amount of collaboration with our UK colleagues as well as other colleges, universities, industries, state and local governments, startups, nonprofits and community partners in our region.”

In order to maintain a successful relationship with partners, the university must invest more in these types of relationships. There is a growing demand among students and parents for tangible returns on their education investments. This includes internships, careers and research opportunities.

To aid with holistic engagement, the OBE is developing tools and processes that will increase campuswide coordination between the university and holistic partners. To achieve this, OBE is partnering with the Enterprise Salesforce Operations Team within Information Technology Services; Institutional Research, Analytics, and Decision Support; and the Office of Philanthropy and Alumni. They are working to create a central tracking and reporting system for UK’s business engagements. This system will help document top university business partners and identify potential opportunities for collaboration. The system will also serve the university community. When it is up and running, the system will be used to report the business engagements and opportunities of specific colleges.

Finally, Kluemper has created a task force to develop a pilot initiative: OneUK. This program seeks to develop and expand holistic relationships with strategic business partners to facilitate coordinated excellence in education, research and community engagement across campus. OneUK is currently in the endorsement process and more details will be released in the coming months.

“I love partnerships and relationship building,” said Kluemper. “I see the impact it has on our students, our researchers, and our community. I see it at a fundamental level.”

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.