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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

U Alaska’s Ambassador Program embeds tech transfer into campus culture

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: November 10th, 2021

A detailed article on the University of Alaska’s tech transfer ambassadors appears in the October issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

We’ve all heard of student ambassadors, but what about tech transfer ambassadors? At the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) — where a tiny TTO staff needed a way to extend its reach within a limited budget — the concept has taken off and has become woven into its overall culture. The school’s program taps students, faculty and staff as Ambassadors, whose charge is to promote innovation and entrepreneurship as well as raise awareness of the Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization (OIPC). And it’s working — the ambassadors are not only making more people aware, but their efforts have significantly increased disclosures.

The OIPC has a broad mandate that includes not only tech transfer and licensing but also corporate engagement, economic development, and fostering innovation generally. It’s a tall order and one that Gwen Holdmann, OIPC’s former director, and current director of UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), felt needed more support. So, when she landed the job heading up the Center for Power and Energy, she got to thinking about all the other well-qualified applicants who had interviewed for the OPIC position. That’s when the light bulb went off and she came up with the Ambassador concept in 2017.

“I had the idea after I got the job as a way to tap into a very talented field of rival applications for the position. There were reasons I was selected, but other applications had strengths that I didn’t and had different ‘windows’ into the university that could benefit the [OIPC] program,” she says.

“At the time, we were a two-person office, Mark Billingsley and me,” she says. Holdmann held both positions — director of both OPIC and ACEP — concurrently in a part-time capacity and then voluntarily stepped back from OIPC once Billingsley was ready to step into that role on a full-time basis.

“I hired four ambassadors, three of which had been applicants. I believe that people pay more attention when they’re compensated, so these ambassador positions are offered up to a month of salary support,” which is paid based on hours worked throughout the year. Suddenly, with the addition of the ambassadors the department in essence went from two people to six.

“We were no longer having to do the dog and pony show once a year to give presentations to different university departments explaining our services and role,” she says. She once had a department head say to her, “It’s great to learn about all these services, but when you walk out that door and it’s no longer at the top of my mind, I forget about it.”

Now, rather than a “one and done” presentation, the ambassadors keep the OIPC message alive throughout the university. “That’s one of the key reasons the ambassador program works. There’s an ambassador at each college to keep it in front of them all the time,” Holdmann says.

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Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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