Portland State University: Partnering to Serve the City of Portland with Knowledge
"Let Knowledge Serve the City" became the mission of Portland State University (PSU) in the 1990s. As part of its urban mission, PSU developed a new curriculum that required all students to take on a service-learning capstone project. PSU has been participating in partnerships that benefit the city for years, but the university significantly enhanced its role as an anchor institution in 2010, when its president, Wim Wiewel, created the Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships (RSP). Today, RSP oversees the university’s many partnerships and programs, which focus on four areas: community health, economic development, education, and urban sustainability.
Partnering to Support Community Health
Illustrative of PSU’s focus on community health is the university’s collaboration with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Although the two universities had collaborated for more than a decade, in 2010 PSU began a formal partnership with OHSU, the only academic health center in Oregon. In cooperation with Oregon State University (OSU), the universities developed the Collaborative Life Sciences Building, a research and educational facility that has earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification. Occupying a former industrial site along Portland’s South Waterfront, the 650,000-square-foot building is home to labs, specialty research centers, simulation centers, offices, classrooms, and lecture halls for more than 3,000 students, faculty, and staff from the OHSU/OSU joint pharmacy program; OHSU’s medical programs; and PSU’s research programs in biology, biochemistry, and chemistry. According to Erin Flynn, associate vice president for strategic partnerships at PSU, the OHSU-PSU partnership helps Portland benefit from the resources of a world-class research university and strengthens a growing portfolio of joint faculty research in the key areas of life sciences, public health, and aging. PSU and OHSU’s next joint project, the School of Public Health, will be completed in late 2015; building upon earlier collaborations between the two universities, the new school "will be poised to meet the evolving health needs of Oregon and beyond."
Fostering Entrepreneurship and Economic Development
In the early 2000s, several small technology companies expressed an interest in locating on or near PSU’s campus to draw on the skills of students and faculty from the school’s computer science department. Although the university was not authorized to purchase a building with university money or provide space on campus for private tenants, PSU administrators worked with the community to come up with a solution. In 2004, PSU’s chief financial officer persuaded several individuals to purchase a 40,000-square-foot building a mile from the university to serve as a business incubator that PSU would manage. Named the Business Accelerator, the facility housed 23 companies by 2006, most of which focused on technology products and services. In 2010, recognizing the advantages of contributing to the enterprise, the Portland Development Commission constructed more than 2,000 square feet of new wet lab space that incorporates specialized utilities required by biotechnology start-ups.
Today, the facility is the largest and most successful business accelerator in Oregon. Among its tenants are more than 30 start-up companies, including some created by PSU, OHSU, and OSU, in fields such as software, clean technology, and biotechnology. Tenants have access to mentors, boot camps, and practice pitch sessions. Since 2004, the Business Accelerator has fostered the creation of more than 1,100 jobs, and its start-up companies have received $150 million in government grants and venture capital. In addition, the UBI Index recognized PSU’s accelerator in 2014 as one of the top 25 university incubators globally, and in 2015, the National Business Incubator Association named the Business Accelerator its Incubator of the Year in the Technology Focus category.
Improving Student Engagement through the Learning Gardens Laboratory
The Learning Gardens Laboratory, a 12-acre garden education site for K–12 and university students, as well as community residents, is an example of PSU’s focus on community education. Created in 2005 by PSU, OSU’s Extension Service, Portland Public Schools, and Portland Parks and Recreation, the laboratory offers many programs, including a garden-based education initiative for students from the city’s Lane Middle School. Located across the street from the school, the garden provides students with a hands-on environment to learn about growing, harvesting, and cooking food. The program’s instructors are graduate assistants in PSU’s Leadership for Sustainability Education (LSE) program. The graduate assistants also work with the families of Lane Middle School students in the Lane Family Learning Garden in the laboratory, where they prepare land, plant seeds, and harvest produce. The laboratory’s program for middle school students is intended to improve educational and motivational outcomes for participating children. Evidence from the only quantitative study on garden-based education in the United States, conducted by PSU’s Department of Psychology, indicates that the children’s participation in the learning garden corresponded to a higher level of engagement in school, particularly in science.
Students in grades 6 through 8 from Lane Middle School and Lent School are currently participating in the second year of a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation for education using learning gardens. The grant, "Science in the Learning Gardens: Factors that Support Racial and Ethnic Minority Students’ Success in Low-Income Middle Schools," is allowing LSE graduate students, PSU professors, and teachers and staff from Portland Public Schools to develop and evaluate the student motivation and academic outcomes of a garden-based science curriculum using next-generation science standards for public schools. According to Claire Lagerwey, an LSE graduate assistant in the laboratory, the program is striving to be culturally relevant for students, teaching students science while simultaneously growing foods that their families would be likely to cook at home. Lagerwey notes that the program "provides a different arena for kids to learn; it takes kids out of the rigid learning environment and provides opportunities for children to experience kinesthetic learning and observe ecological relationships." Lagerwey also points out that the laboratory improves the instructor-to-student ratio by placing graduate instructors with public school teachers.
Creating a More Sustainable Portland
Since 2003, PSU’s Community Environmental Services program has partnered with the Port of Portland to provide technical assistance on environmental and sustainability issues at all of the port’s facilities, with a special focus on Portland International Airport. Students and faculty consult with port employees and other stakeholders to develop initiatives that support the agency’s waste minimization objectives for composting, recycling, and other types of waste prevention. The project benefits not only students, who gain one or two years of hands-on experience consulting on waste management issues, but also the port itself, as can be seen in the program’s impressive list of accomplishments. Since the project began, the waste diversion rate at several port facilities has increased; more than 2,400 tons of food waste and 100 tons of liquid waste at the Portland International Airport Terminal have been diverted from landfills. Redirecting liquid waste alone has saved the port an estimated $30,000 in janitorial services per year.
Continuing the Focus on Partnerships
Recent PSU programs maintain the university’s focus on community health, economic development, education, and urban sustainability. One such example is the Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative (SNI), which began in 2013 and engages university students in community work in the Living Cully, Foster Green, Lloyd, and South of Market neighborhoods. Students are helping these neighborhoods design green space and conducting research to help the communities create affordable housing and viable business development strategies. SNI is designed for cumulative impact, with successive groups of students working on projects and issues identified by community partners over time. According to Flynn, programs such as SNI are the "future of partnerships" at PSU.
In addition to the university’s partnerships with these neighborhoods, the city of Portland, Portland Public Schools, OHSU, OSU, and the Port of Portland, the individual schools and colleges within PSU collaborate with other outside entities to foster community and economic development. Because PSU participates in so many partnerships, RSP developed a new Partnership Council in 2014 to better coordinate efforts to improve the community and consistently measure results. These existing and future partnerships will continue to be central to the university’s mission. As PSU updates its strategic plan, Flynn emphasizes that "the partnership agenda will be front and center."
Scott Carlson. 2013. "Portland State U. Ties Its Fortunes to Those of Its Quirky City," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 11 November. Accessed 27 May 2015; Document provided by Erin Flynn, associate vice president of strategic partnerships at Portland State University; Interview with Erin Flynn, 16 June 2015.×
Document provided by Erin Flynn; Interview with Erin Flynn, 16 June 2015; Portland State University. 2015. "Strategic Partner: OHSU." Accessed 17 June 2015; Oregon Health & Science University. n.d. "The Collaborative Life Sciences Building At a Glance." Accessed 17 June 2015; Oregon Health & Science University. n.d. "Collaborative Life Sciences Building." Accessed 17 June 2015; Oregon Health & Science University. n.d. "The CLSB project." Accessed 17 June 2015; Oregon Health & Science University. n.d. "The CLSB partners." Accessed 17 June 2015; Oregon Health & Science University. n.d. "School of Public Health Initiative." Accessed 17 June 2015.×
Document provided by Erin Flynn; Portland Development Commission. 2010. "PDC Provides Funding for Portland State Business Accelerator to Build Lab Space in Support of Bioscience Industry," press release, 10 February. Accessed 17 June 2015.×
Document provided by Erin Flynn.×
Portland State University. 2015. "Learning Gardens Laboratory." Accessed 16 June 2015; Document provided by Erin Flynn.×
Portland State University. 2015. "Learning Gardens Laboratory." Accessed 16 June 2015; Interview with Claire Lagerwey, graduate assistant at Portland State University, 25 June 2015.×
Port of Portland. n.d. "Partnering With Portland State University to Fight Waste." Accessed 18 June 2015; Portland State University. 2015. "Port of Portland Technical Assistance Project." Accessed 18 June 2015 (website has been changed between research and publication and this page is no longer available).×
Portland State University. 2015. "Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative." Accessed 19 June 2015; Interview with Erin Flynn, 16 June 2015.×
Portland State University. 2015. "PSU Partnership Council." Accessed 19 June 2015; Interview with Erin Flynn. 16 June 2015.×