There isn’t a single university or college in Milwaukee that ranks
with the University of Wisconsin-Madison in terms of size, research
dollars or global reputation. That’s not said to hurt anyone’s feelings —
it’s simply the historic, present and future truth.

Milwaukee has, however, is nearly two-dozen colleges and universities
that collectively educate about 180,000 students across a spectrum of
disciplines, including virtually all of the so-called “STEM” fields —
science, technology, engineering and math — needed in today’s innovation

Read this full commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.

Harnessing the collective power of those colleges and
universities is a goal for Marquette University President Michael
Lovell. With a little more than a year on the job, Lovell appears to be
picking up where he left off in his previous role as chancellor of

Lovell spoke recently at a meeting of the Tech
Council’s Wisconsin Innovation Network in Wauwatosa, where part of his
talk summarized specific projects at Marquette. He spoke just as much,
however, about what others are doing to move the region ahead.

today are really being called upon to help lead research and the growth
of regions,” Lovell said. “There’s not a region in the country that is
doing well that doesn’t have a major research university.”

Or, in the case, of Milwaukee, multiple research universities that find ways to work together.

such project in Milwaukee is The Commons, a collaboration of area
colleges that provides students with chances to work with area
businesses in real-world settings. Last year, more than 140 students
from 19 colleges or universities spent time working on specific projects
and business challenges. Another class is forming for this academic

At UWM, where Lovell spent time as engineering dean, interim
chancellor and chancellor, projects tied to economic opportunity range
from the Student Start-Up Challenge and the App Brewery to nationally
recognized partnerships with Johnson Controls Inc., GE Healthcare and
Rockwell Automation. Current UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone has
accelerated progress on those projects and more, especially those tied
to the water cluster.

Lovell’s appreciation of academic and
industry partnerships dates to his time at the University of Pittsburgh,
where the Swanson Center for Product Innovation was an eye-opener for
him. Launched in 2001, it led to 500 projects involving 100 existing
companies, 226 products, 260 jobs, eight start-ups and $13.2 million in
new company revenues within a few years.

The UWM project with
Johnson Controls is a targeted extension of that concept, Lovell said,
and continues to benefit the company and the university today with
shared labs, appointments, interns and more.

“Co-location: That’s where the magic happens,” he said.

Marquette, Lovell pushed for creation of a Strategic Innovation Fund
shortly after arriving in the summer of 2014. About $5.7 million was
raised, and more than 275 proposals came from faculty members with
ideas. Those ideas involved 480 faculty out of Marquette’s 600, which
Lovell counts as just as important as the 38 ideas initially selected
for funding.

“With one simple thing, we energized the campus,” he said.

to National Science Foundation figures from 2012, Marquette raised and
spent about $18.6 million on research. Lovell said he would like to
double that figure over the next five years.

In the same NSF data
for 2012, the Medical College of Wisconsin stood at $209 million,
UW-Milwaukee at $61 million and the Milwaukee School of Engineering at
$5 million, with other area colleges at amounts of $1 million or less.
That’s a total approaching $300 million — still a far cry from the
UW-Madison’s $1.2 billion, but enough to leverage industry support and
economic activity.

It’s tempting to look at the success of
UW-Madison and the Madison area and conclude that Milwaukee has somehow
missed the R&D boat that carries metropolitan regions to warmer
economic ports. That’s only true if the region fails to work together in
the years ahead.

Look for academic leaders such as Lovell to
continue their drive for greater cooperation among themselves and
industry, Milwaukee’s historic strength, to help the region become more