Chancellor Lynn Black with UMD students.
Universities have historically been called "Ivory Towers" — places of intellectual pursuit, far removed from the practical working world. And while the University of Minnesota Duluth certainly values basic research — knowledge for its own sake — our recently crafted Strategic Plan calls for stronger responsibility to meeting the needs of the community. The applied research mission of our Natural Resources Research Institute is especially relevant given today’s economic condition and Minnesota’s valuable natural resources.
"NRRI’s mission is to foster the economic development of Minnesota’s natural resources in an environmentally sound manner to promote private sector employment."
Not only does NRRI play an important role in meeting many of our university goals, its wide variety of applied research helps us meet our responsibility as a land-grant university. NRRI scientists and engineers are charged with focusing their knowledge to help entrepreneurs, small businesses and entire industries to be more efficient and competitive. The environmental research mission centers on sustainable resources to ensure a productive future for our region. And while the institute doesn’t have a teaching mission in the classic sense, who better to usher in a new generation of mining professionals than industry experts who work daily with the ore mines? Who better to share expertise on water quality than an ecologist who is monitoring Duluth streams? Who better to teach a class on wildlife than a biologist who is immersed in studying local moose populations?
UMD’s number one goal is to provide excellent and relevant education to our students. NRRI helps us meet that goal by engaging students with applied research opportunities that meet community and industry needs. During the 2011-2012 academic year, 34 undergraduate, 12 masters level, and three post-graduate students worked side-by-side with NRRI researchers. And during the summer months, NRRI kept 66 seasonal workers busy, as well as 15 volunteers. Their experiences included testing taconite tailings for new industrial uses, collecting water samples around the Great Lakes, developing marketing plans for local businesses, mapping the mineral potential in northern Minnesota... and much more, which you’ll read about in this issue. Students learn so much more when they turn their textbook knowledge into solutions that make a real difference.
Partnering with the local and global community is another valuable role that NRRI plays. The institute has long provided research and development to the mining and wood products industries of the region, but outreach such as efficient manufacturing training, online environmental curricula, and stormwater education for city workers and developers, to name a few examples, are valuable ways of educating outside of the classroom.
UMD is not an Ivory Tower. It’s a place to become a lifelong learner and expand the knowledge base with the wider world. NRRI helps our university to be the vital partner it strives to be.