University of Minnesota Alumni Association


From the President

Innovative Thinkers

Joan T.A. Gabel

The U of M is a world-class institution because our history is lined with risk takers and creative thinkers. We are a family of discoverers with unyielding ingenuity, relentless effort, and a commitment to drive solutions that elevate Minnesota and society as a whole.

Over the last year, we’ve seen this legacy of innovation on display, despite the challenges of the pandemic. We’ve advanced our reputation as a problem-solving University with Top-10 national research distinction through record-breaking research awards of $1.15 billion for FY 2021, and through the procurement of over a quarter-billion dollars in Covid19-related awards to support areas such as clinical trials. This important focus is aligned with key measures and metrics in our systemwide strategic plan, MPact 2025.

In this spirit, we are also proud of the incredible impact and meaningful difference the recent recipients of the Office of the Vice President for Research’s Innovation Impact Case Awards are making across our communities.

For example, research led by Swati S. More and Robert Vince from the Center for Drug Design has resulted in the development of a noninvasive, scalable tool for Alzheimer’s detection using the retina of the eye, without use of any extraneous dyes. The disease impacts 6.5 million Americans, a number expected to double by 2050. Alzheimer’s has no cure, largely because doctors cannot diagnose it until it is advanced and symptomatic. More hopes this award-winning research becomes “part of an annual eye exam and a tool for doctors to monitor changes in their patients.”

And in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, Sayan Biswas, the Benjamin Mayhugh Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Science and Engineering, and his research team developed, in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories, an advanced low-temperature plasma ignitor that produces zero emissions and doubles fuel economy for only $10 more per engine by improving combustion efficacy. With more than a billion vehicles operating worldwide daily, along with millions of flights per year, this innovation aims to reduce transportation emissions responsible for a third of the world’s greenhouse emissions. Biswas believes we can have an impact on climate change by making steady and sustained technological changes starting now.

Creative thinkers like these and others across our University landscape drive innovation and ideas. These include cross-sector creative engagement from alumni like Tane Danger (M.P.P. ’16), who cofounded the Theater of Public Policy and directs the Westminster Town Hall Forum, a speaker series that engages the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day, in partnership with MPR; or recent graduate Josh Koser (B.M.E. ‘21), who found a career at the intersection of his degrees in mechanical engineering and theatre arts and dance. He connects the world of artistic and mechanical stage production with artists like Ed Sheeran.

As a research university, we recognize our important role to be Minnesota’s and the nation’s primary source of creative and innovative thinking, new knowledge, and workforce-ready graduates poised to change the world for the better. 

Because of this, and thanks to all of you, we can be confident that our best days lie ahead.

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