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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Strong communication among campus units enhances strategic industry engagement efforts


By David Schwartz
Published: September 14th, 2021

A detailed article covering a broad range of strategies for communicating effectively with on-campus partners to enhance corporate collaborations appears in the September issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here. 

No corporate engagement department is an island (apologies to John Donne). While the creation and implementation of campus-wide projects and initiatives aimed at strengthening industry partnerships most often resides within the corporate engagement office, few of these undertakings can be pulled off without the enthusiastic participation of many other departments or units on campus. Key to that participation, engagement experts agree, is effective communication with those units. 

“This speaks as a whole to how we engage — how everything fits in together,” says Leah Aschmann, director of corporate relations in the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Rice University. “We make a very deliberate attempt to have regular interactions and communications with campus partners, and whenever there are projects or strategic initiatives, we make sure to share.”

“One thing we do is coordination,” adds Paul Nkansah, PhD, senior director of corporate partnerships with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures. “We have frequent meetings as a group with the principals of different corporate engagement offices throughout the university, typically every quarter, to share notes and exchange ideas about different activities. Part of the meeting is to seek improvement, to challenge all of us to do better, and maybe change processes.”

For example, quarterly meetings are held with the philanthropy team. “From those quarterly meetings we try to identify areas of synergy,” he says. “If we need communication with alumni, we try to meet and develop and devise a plan.”

The communications department is another example, he continues. “We always want to make sure what we do is articulated in way that helps commercialization,” he says. “We engage with the ‘comms’ team across our entire office, and we put together our annual report, which involves many communication folks.” 

Nkansah adds that getting these other units on board is a pretty smooth process. “It’s very collegial; I never find a situation where you struggle to convince someone to work with you, as it’s mutually beneficial,” he explains. “The more I do, the more I bring along more opportunities [for them].”

The approach is similar at Rice. “Anybody and everybody on campus who engages with companies gets together quarterly,” says Aschmann. “It’s co-hosted by my office and the Center for Career Development and the Office of Research — the three main legs of the corporate relations stool.” Usually 40 to 50 people attend, she adds. 

“It’s been a great way of engaging different groups on campus that you may not see regularly,” Aschmann continues. “We have a standing monthly meeting with deans of engineering and natural sciences and meet every other month with the provosts. We also send representatives to meet monthly or quarterly with the different institutes on campus. Other programs have corporate membership meetings, and development officers from other units. It’s a very deliberate effort to make sure there are regular communications.

 “There’s always something we don’t know, so our office is all about transparency,” she continues. “If you work with campus partners who will share all the information they have, you can make a more informed decision to move a program forward.”

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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