Earlier this month I celebrated the end of my first year in the state of Iowa. Throughout the year, I have been barnstorming the state like an aspiring presidential candidate, meeting business, government and community leaders. I have been carrying a simple message to Iowa communities: the University of Iowa is committed to new, more active partnerships with the citizens of Iowa.

I have been delighted that communities, local economic development organizations, state agencies and fellow institutions of higher education have all responded positively and enthusiastically to active partnership with the university.

Today, we live in a world of frequent and disruptive change. Entire industries can vanish in just a few years – supplanted by new technologies or overrun by global competitors – taking jobs, economic security and hopes with them. More and more, economic events half a world away have direct and often unanticipated effects that reverberate across the heartland.

In this world of change, how do we create and retain high-paying, rewarding jobs for Iowans? How do we ensure the global competitiveness of our local companies, large and small? Most importantly, how do we create an economically attractive future for our children and grandchildren? I have been honest in saying that the university does not have all the answers to our shared economic future, but we will roll up our sleeves and work with you every day to find those answers together. In so doing, we will marshal all of the university’s assets to address the economic opportunities and challenges confronting us all.

We must create some economic disruptions of our own. That means identifying our unique assets and combining them in innovative ways that are distinctively Iowan. Visiting with President Terry Murrell at Western Iowa Tech Community College in August it was clear that the University of Iowa and WITCC have a mutual interest in training our students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and giving them the skills to be globally competitive and to refresh those skills in an ever-changing marketplace.

We can build on existing inter-institutional partnerships that enable WITCC graduates to earn a four-year UI degree through distance education without relocating their families or interrupting their careers. And we can continue to partner with institutions to address specific skill shortages, as we do with Iowa Lakes Community College, by smoothing the transfer of Iowa Lakes wind technology graduates into UI electrical, computer and mechanical engineering programs.

We are also launching “boot camps” – intensive, immersive training in entrepreneurship and information technology that give participants practical and marketable skills. Beginning in the spring, these will be held regularly across the state, working with the university’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) and community colleges like WITCC. We are also optimizing our intern programs to place more students in Iowa businesses and developing hands-on, local partnerships to address problems faced by Iowa companies.

It is a rapidly shifting world, and cultivating lifelong learning, innovation and entrepreneurship are our pathways to a brighter economic future. From Sioux City to Singapore, the University of Iowa will be there as an engaged and committed partner. In the spirit of Horace Greeley, we will persistently look west to Woodbury when charting our course. That is the very definition of a vibrant 21st-century Iowa.

Daniel A. Reed is vice president for research and economic development and university computational science and bioinformatics chair at the University of Iowa. Contact him at dan-reed@uiowa.edu. His website is www.hpcdan.org.