Rutgers’ Vision Links Academic Distinction with Service to New Jersey

By Richard L. McCormick
As submitted; edited versions were published in The Daily Record on
October 3, 2004, The Asbury Park Press on October 8, 2004, The Trenton Times on October 19, 2004 and The Philadelphia Enquirer on November 15, 2004.

As Rutgers shapes its vision for the future, our top two goals have emerged with distinct clarity – to become a nationally top-ranked public research university and to serve the people of New Jersey. These goals are deeply entwined.

This connection was evident recently when 33 new Rutgers faculty members and I embarked on a five-day, 540-mile tour of the state we call home. We visited cities, farms, schools, and industries, and met with corporate leaders, high school students, teachers, small business owners, farmers, and local officials. At each stop we discovered ways in which Rutgers’ teaching and research could benefit the people we met, whether finding better methods to move plants through a huge greenhouse or better methods for assessing middle school science education.

In our many conversations on the tour and elsewhere, we have asked: What are some of New Jersey’s most pressing challenges? Environmental protection is surely one. Finding cures for devastating diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes, is another. We have heard increasing concerns about nutrition and the rise in obesity that threatens the health of both children and adults. Also critical is early childhood literacy, a vital foundation for a child’s future success. These are just some of the serious statewide issues to which Rutgers is applying thoughtful, determined research.

Rutgers brings considerable strength to bear on New Jersey’s challenges, drawing upon the breadth and excellence of our academic disciplines, the outstanding quality of our faculty and students, and our long and rich history in the state. But to take full advantage of its stellar resources, Rutgers must make conscious efforts to propel the results of our research beyond the boundaries of our campuses to real people and real situations where it can help solve problems.

Take transportation, for example, a serious daily problem faced by nearly all New Jerseyans whether rushing to work or simply running out for a gallon of milk. Transportation is a thorny issue, one that involves land-use planning, infrastructure engineering, and transit alternatives. It affects economic activity, environmental protection, and the quality of everyday life. No one academic discipline can solve this problem alone. It will take the expertise and entrepreneurship of faculty, students, state officials, and industry representatives in areas ranging from civil engineering to public policy, from computer science to business, from mathematics to environmental studies.

Rutgers already has two dynamic entities devoted to transportation. Faculty and students at the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation in the School of Engineering study ways to improve road-surfacing materials, ensure the integrity of an aging infrastructure, and enhance transportation safety and security. At the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, faculty and students apply Rutgers research to the challenges of preventing crashes on local roads, improving the flow of freight, and promoting alternative forms of transportation.

These two entities are becoming exponentially more powerful by working hand in hand, drawing on expertise from departments throughout the university, consulting with colleagues at other schools and with state and federal partners, and working cooperatively with New Jersey citizens, the true beneficiaries of this research.

In addition to addressing New Jersey problems, this approach has the potential to thrust Rutgers into the ranks of the nation’s top public research universities by taking what is now very good at Rutgers and making it truly great. It will also ensure that our students receive an education that is relevant to the real-world challenges they will face for the rest of their lives.

This, then, is our vision for Rutgers, a university deeply rooted in New Jersey but becoming among the best in the world. It is a vision of a nationally distinguished public research university committed to results that benefit first and foremost the people right here at home. It is an inclusive, ambitious vision of boundless opportunities. It is a vision in which all New Jersey citizens can take tremendous pride.