Brand ambition / Rowan University is ready to move into the big leagues
April 19, 2013
- Peter Key
- Reporter- Philadelphia Business Journal
GLASSBORO, N.J. — Rowan University wants to be a 21st century research university.
Nearly 21 years ago, Rowan used a $100 million gift to transform itself from a state college into a state university with a well-regarded engineering school, and now it’s looking to transform itself again.
This time, the Gloucester County school plans to use its engineering and business schools in conjunction with its newly created medical school and the school of osteopathic medicine it takes control of in July to become a hub for technology development and transfer.
The chief architect of the plan is Ali Houshmand, who came to Rowan as provost/senior vice president for academic affairs in 2006, became its CEO and interim president three years later and its full-time president last June.
Growth is a large part of the plan’s component. Houshmand wants to more than double Rowan’s enrollment from nearly 12,200 to 25,000 within 10 years, in large part by doubling enrollment in the College of Engineering, the Rohrer College of Business and the School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Rowan also wants to have those three schools and the Camden-based Cooper Medical School of Rowan University work together to increase both the amount of research the university does and the amount of technology it spins out.
Two men who will play a big part in that effort are Kenneth Blank, who was named Rowan’s first vice president of health sciences in January, and Anthony Lowman, who became dean of the College of Engineering the same month. The two worked together at Temple University, where Lowman was vice provost for research and business development and Blank was senior vice provost for research and graduate education. They also worked with Houshmand at Drexel University and their belief in his ability to execute his plan for Rowan was a major reason both came to the university.
“He truly is a visionary leader and in a president, that’s a rare commodity,” Blank said.
Lowman and Blank also were attracted by the opportunity to help grow Rowan’s technology-transfer operations.
Rowan’s journey toward becoming a comprehensive research university began with enactment early last year of The New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act. The law paved the way for Rowan to take control of the School of Osteopathic Medicine, which is based in Stratford and has been part of the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey.
Having the School of Osteopathic Medicine and the Cooper Medical School, which admitted its first class last year, makes Rowan one of only two universities in the country — Michigan State University is the other — to operate both a DO-granting school and an MD-granting school. It also gives Rowan two schools doing medical research, which is a good producer of technology that can be commercialized.
Including the School of Osteopathic Medicine, Rowan gets about $20 million a year in research funding. Houshmand wants to quintuple that to $100 million within 10 years and Blank plans on doing it earlier.
“The goal is to reach $100 million very rapidly,” Blank said.
Rowan’s roadmap for reaching $100 million entails establishing ways for researchers in the medical school and School of Osteopathic Medicine to work with other researchers at the university to identify real-world problems, apply for funding to do work to solve them, and then commercialize the work.
Rowan already takes that approach, employing two business-development firms to help it look for federal funding opportunities that match up well with its research capabilities.
But the addition of the two medical schools gives it a chance to create a culture in which “technology commercialization becomes an integral part of the research,” Blank said. “I’ve got engineering and I’ve got a new medical school and we get to marry them in their infancy.”
Rowan’s School of Biomedical Sciences, which it opened last July, also fits into the mix, as does the Rohrer College of Business. Rowan plans to start programs that link business students with engineering students as freshman.
The college of business also has a presence at the South Jersey Technology Park at Rowan University, which includes engineering research labs and a business incubator, as well as space for young companies to rent. Rowan plans to construct two more buildings at the park so companies that start in the incubator can move into them as they need more space.
Keeping young tech companies in the area would help Rowan boost South Jersey’s economy, which is one of the reasons Houshmand wants to expand it.
Another is that Rowan is turning away qualified New Jersey residents. Houshmand said that for every student that the Rohrer College of Engineering can accept, there are at least 10 qualified New Jersey residents it has to turn away.
“If I could double the size of [the college of] engineering today, I could overnight double the number of students as long as I have enough faculty members,” Houshmand said.
New Jersey residents turned away by Rowan typically pay higher tuition elsewhere, so attending Rowan would be good for their bank accounts. It also could be good for New Jersey’s economy by keeping more bright, young people in the state, especially if those people wind up working for startups.
A study released earlier this year by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program found that producing patents is a key to regional economic growth and that areas with high patent activity typically are home to universities with leading science research programs and have high concentrations of degree holders in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
Despite that, few research universities have been created since the early 20th century, said Jonathan Rothwell, a senior research associate and associate fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program, who worked on the patent study.
“That’s what more places should be doing,” Rothwell said.
Incubator: The germ of an idea
The South Jersey Technology Park at Rowan University consists of a two-story, 45,000-square-foot building surrounded by 425 parking spaces in the middle of a field on U.S. Route 322 in Mantua.
If Rowan succeeds in its plan to transform itself into a modern research university, it could end up as far more.
The master plan for the technology park, which is run by a nonprofit established with a $5.8 million grant from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, calls for the Samuel H. Jones Innovation Center to be the first of 25 buildings with 1.5 million square feet of space. In the less distant future, phase one of the park’s development could include two additional buildings with as much as 155,000 square feet.
The hope is that the park will be home to entrepreneurial companies based around technology spun off from Rowan’s research. As these startup residents incubate and grow, they’ll create demand for additional buildings in the park. One day, the park could be full of innovative companies such as FocalCool LLC, which is developing devices that cool the brain and heart to reduce damage to them after a stroke or heart attack.
“This is really what we want to do at the technology park — have them come out of the incubator and grow into the next building,” said Shreekanth Mandayam, Rowan’s associate provost for research.
Picking up the tab
Rowan’s plan to double its enrollment and increase its research fivefold will require 11 construction projects costing $332.7 million, some of which will be paid for with help from the state.
The three most expensive projects are:
• A new 106,523-square-foot Joint Health Sciences Building in Camden that would cost $79 million.
• An additional 90,500-square-foot building for the College of Engineering that would cost $74.1 million;
• A new 110,000-square-foot building for the Rohrer College of Business that would cost $63.2 million;
For those buildings, Rowan has asked the state for money from a $750 million fund created by a bond issue approved by New Jersey voters last November. To get that money, Rowan must pay at least 25 percent of the construction costs itself.
For five of the remaining eight projects, which have a total cost of $80.7 million among them, Rowan must pay one third of the debt service costs of the bonds used to fund them. Of the other three, which total $35.7 million, one requires no contribution from Rowan, one requires it to pay one fourth of the debt service costs of the bonds used to fund it, and one requires it to pay at least half the cost of the project.
Rowan President Ali Houshmand said it’s too early to say how much money Rowan will get from the state. “Obviously,” he said, “I’m hoping for the maximum amount possible.”
Peter covers education, energy, labor, technology and venture capital.