Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Chancellor speaks to Sprint employees about innovation and the economy

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Remarks to Sprint Employees

Thank you so much for the warm welcome.

It’s an honor to be here for such an outstanding program with such a dedicated group of employees. And it’s always a treat for me to visit Sprint World Headquarters here in Overland Park.

It’s invigorating to be around big thinkers like you, and it’s always exciting to see that the “next big thing” – whatever that may be – is being created right here in Kansas.

I’d like to start by thanking two of Sprint’s outstanding employee resource groups, the Diamond Network and WISE, for collaborating on today’s event and inviting me to be part of it. As you know, February was Black History Month, and March is Women’s History Month, which makes this an ideal time for today’s program.

As the first African American and female chancellor at KU, I’d like to think I represent a success story that Diamond Network and WISE members alike can relate to, and I’m privileged to share some of my experiences and thoughts with you today.

I’d also like to take a few minutes to talk about the role that research universities like KU, and industry leaders like Sprint, must play in growing our economy, improving the quality of life of our citizens, and shaping our future.

When I first heard the theme of today’s event – “Learn from the Past, Create Your Future” – it got me thinking about my experiences and how they’ve made me the person I am today.

And as I look back on my life and my career, there’s no question that my past continues to shape my future.

So what are a few things I’ve learned from my past?

I’ve learned that a child whose parents didn’t graduate from high school can still dream of going to college and earning a degree. And then another. And another.

I’ve learned that when that child first makes the bus ride from Washington, North Carolina, to college in Scranton, Pennsylvania, she’s not only fulfilling her own dreams, but her parents’ dreams, too.

I’ve learned that there are few things more humbling or gratifying than watching your mom go on to earn her high school diploma, demonstrating the determination to work, and take care of your siblings, and go to school, all at the same time.

And more than anything, I’ve learned that you have to think big and dream bigger, no matter your circumstances, your gender or the color of your skin.

And I know this because I’m that first-generation college student who went on from a small segregated town in North Carolina to have the privilege of becoming the chancellor of one of the nation’s finest universities.

I’ve continued to dream big since coming to KU. In fact, in many ways, I dream bigger now than ever before. Right now, I’m focused on ensuring KU continues to be a vibrant university that benefits our state and fulfills our obligations to Kansas and the greater world.

In pursuit of this goal:

  • We continue to educate students and ensure they graduate with the skills required to join businesses like Sprint.
  • We continue to conduct world-class research that creates private-sector jobs and improves lives.
  • And we continue to provide direct services to citizens statewide and throughout the world.

These are important obligations, especially amid the backdrop of an historic economic recession. That’s why now, more than ever, the work we do at KU is so important.

Of course, the same is true for the work you do here at Sprint. For it is research universities like KU and industry leaders like Sprint that will play a huge role in creating new jobs, growing our economy and improving our quality of life through innovation, discovery and research.

The notion of learning from the past to create the future is a lesson that I hope we all take to heart.

It certainly is a lesson not lost on President Obama, who, in his State of the Union address, laid out a plan for the U.S. to “win the future” by investing in infrastructure, education and new technology. He called this our new “Sputnik moment,” and he referenced the post-World War II boom we experienced because government and industry leaders made strategic investments to foster innovation, growth and economic diversification.

If this is, in fact, our generation’s Sputnik moment – and if we are to capitalize on it as a nation – companies like Sprint are going to be a huge part of that plan by increasing the pace of innovation, making workers more productive and ensuring commerce is more efficient.

Certainly, this is not a new concept. For years, companies like G.E., Xerox, IBM and Sprint have been fountains of innovation, research and development. And it is talented employees like all of you here today who continue that legacy of innovation. In your case, that means ensuring the cell phone I bought this morning is obsolete by the time I finish this speech.

Of course, no single organization or industry sector can do it alone. It takes a coordinated commitment among federal and state government leaders, industry leaders like Sprint and educational leaders like KU.

From my perspective, KU plays a huge role in this equation by transforming talented students into highly skilled graduates: graduates who will go on to create the next Sprint smart phone, or someday create a network that makes today’s 4G seem painfully slow.

That’s why it’s so important that our policymakers and elected officials remain committed to our universities, which are organizations that certainly understand the concept of learning from the past to drive our future.

I want to give you a couple of examples of the work KU is doing to spur economic growth, foster innovation and shape the future.

Earlier this month, a coalition of Kansas legislators proposed funding increases to expand the engineering programs at the state’s three major research universities. This was a direct response to Kansas business leaders’ estimates that the state needs a 60 percent increase in engineering grads within the next few years – or else will risk hampering our state’s economic growth.

As Sprint employees, you know the value of engineering-intensive industries because you’re part of one. These industries account for a third of the payroll in Kansas and two-thirds of the state’s exports. These industries are the future.

We applaud this proposal because it will help us address the growing demand for engineers at companies like Sprint, as well as the other great Kansas companies involved in aviation, energy production, biotechnology and agriculture. We’ll be urging legislators to make this investment because it ties back to our larger goal of creating jobs, growing the Kansas economy and improving the quality of life of our citizens.

I would also mention the new Bioscience & Technology Business Center that opened on KU’s west campus last August. This center is a 20,000-square-foot business incubator offering lab and office space for startup ventures based on KU research, as well as other technology businesses collaborating with KU researchers. The incubator is designed to be a one-stop shop for KU researchers who want to turn their findings into businesses, and for existing companies that want access to KU researchers.

The center provides big-picture items, like business plan writing, management assistance and capital fundraising. It also takes care of some of the smaller items — like receptionist service, desks, chairs and Internet connections; the kinds of things that often frustrate aspiring business owners and keep them from focusing on their core product or service.

With this new incubator, a company could literally move out of the university one day and have an office ready the next day. We’ve already seen four companies move into the incubator, including Garmin. And I know we’d love to partner with a company like Sprint if it wanted to collaborate with KU researchers on its next big project.

As I said earlier, it’s an important role that organizations like KU and Sprint play, especially given these challenging economic times. And this engineering initiative and the new bioscience and technology incubator are great examples of how universities and industry can collaborate to address those challenges.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial that we embrace this role and continue to move our economy and our world forward. And as long as we keep in mind the lessons from our past, we’ll succeed in creating the future we all want – a future that provides opportunities to all members of society.

Again, I want to thank Sprint, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, the Diamond Network and WISE for organizing today’s event and inviting me to be part of it. I encourage you all to dream big, for it is big dreams that lead to our proudest successes.

And most importantly, I want to thank all of you – the employees at Sprint – for your commitment to innovation and the state of Kansas. Thanks to you, the “next big thing” is never that far away.



Chancellor's Vision

The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.

KU is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to ensure the university is ranked among the top tier of public international research universities.

Through Bold Aspirations, our strategic plan, we're changing the way we prepare students for success. We're fostering research and scholarship across all disciplines. And we're sharing the benefits of a flagship university with our state and world.

This effort is supported by Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, as well as our initiative to reduce administrative costs, Changing for Excellence.

 

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
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