Greater San Marcos Partnership Innovation Summit
Remarks by President Denise Trauth
September 18, 2019
It is an honor to be here to welcome you all to this Innovation Summit.
I’m pleased that our panelists are going to talk about how to disrupt an industry — because innovation and disruption are inextricably linked. In some ways, the word “innovation” tends to be over-used to the point of diluting its true meaning. But we know that disruption, at its core, is shaking up the status quo — and forcing change. Here in the Texas Innovation Corridor, that’s a concept we embrace and celebrate. It has served us well, and will continue to propel us forward.
It is an exciting time for Texas State University. This fall we welcomed our largest freshman class in university history. We had a record-breaking summer graduating class in August. The Princeton Review named Texas State one of the nation's best institutions. And, we continue to raise our profile nationally for leading innovative research with relevance.
But today I want to talk to you about the Big Ideas taking shape at Texas State that have set the stage for us to disrupt on an ever larger scale.
Our university has many centers of excellence. These are research specialties that have gained national or international recognition for contributing solutions to some of society’s greatest challenges in the areas of public safety, health and wellness, societal resilience, and environmental stewardship — to name a few.
Over the last year, we worked with our faculty and staff to identify visionary ideas that align with areas where our research addresses issues of great social and economic importance. Our goal was to strengthen our existing world-class research programs, and launch new ones. So we identified what we have come to call Texas State’s Big Ideas.
Although I’ll enumerate these five Big Ideas, there is a fine line between each of them, as they are all interconnected as I hope you will see.
Our FIRST Big Idea involves using augmented and virtual reality to revolutionize training for law enforcement. Police officers and first responders are often called on to make life or death decisions in a split second. However, most police officers are not trained in an environment that simulates life or death situations. Imagine if every officer in America received repeated virtual reality training in a safe environment that simulated the dangers they face in the field. Through virtual reality, they could learn when and how to use force, and how best to protect themselves and the communities they serve. Our renowned Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, or ALERRT, initiated the use of augmented and virtual reality to train police departments, and now delivers 95 percent of its training remotely. This type of training not only lowers costs — but also improves learning outcomes. ALERRT has partnered with faculty in criminal justice, engineering, social work, exercise and sports science, and metabolic and applied physiology to create an augmented and virtual training model. Since almost any scenario can be simulated through virtual reality, these new training models could also improve training in the field of nursing, aerospace, engineering, teacher education, and beyond.
Our SECOND Big Idea revolves around improving people’s health and wellbeing through innovations in healthcare. It is about translating research into practice. This Big Idea builds on our existing strengths in cancer research, nutrition, health communication, dementia studies, and addiction. We have 225 faculty actively engaged in health research and over 80 degree programs that include some aspect of health-related instruction and research. Our ongoing health research covers a wide spectrum of issues in healthcare delivery, including the technology and communication factors that greatly impact our wellbeing. Texas State research is exploring: Communication nuances that influence whether or not patients comply with doctors’ orders; The use of a mobile app to share health information with pregnant women; And behavioral interventions that help children with autism. As part of this Big Idea, we aim to: Innovate in digital health; Improve health across the lifespan; And introduce new approaches to treating chronic disease.
Our THIRD Big Idea surrounds Materials with Intelligence, better known as “smart materials.” Simply put, smart materials react to their environment. They can change by exposure to stimulus, like friction or temperature. Our researchers are focused on finding ways to advance materials and sensor technology in applications that improve our lives. For this Big Idea, specialty teams are forming to develop a new generation of materials that capture and relay data, and can reconfigure themselves based on their environments. Possible applications are endless. Researchers say tomorrow’s digital components will be seamlessly embedded in fabric. Wearable biomedical sensors can detect diseases in animals or humans before symptoms arise. Smart sensors could be used in homeland security to detect deadly threats, such as mustard gas or anthrax. And, water quality sensors can be used to better supply our cities with clean and safe water.
Our FOURTH Big Idea is based on a concept threaded throughout all the Big Ideas — harnessing the power of Big Data. We assembled an expert team of researchers from almost every field to work at the intersection of Big Data, analytics, and artificial intelligence and find data-driven solutions to problems. We are already applying Big Data solutions to improve mental health treatment, to address business challenges, and to support the safety and security of Texas and our nation. Our university is taking the lead to redefine the education and training model for data solutions. We created an integrated, cross-training approach that folds in computer science, statistics, and mathematics, with topic-based expertise such as biomedicine and finance. Doctors could create customized treatment plans for opioid patients by analyzing mass amounts of data. Communities can plan more efficient affordable housing through data-driven construction. Of course, the business applications are endless. Insurance companies can use Big Data to reduce risk. And, big data can be used to detect homeland security threats through better measurement of the sentiment of social media posts.
Our FIFTH Big Idea is another common thread that runs throughout the others — Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Today’s economy requires a new class of graduates that are skilled in both the discipline of their academic major, and equipped with entrepreneurial training to launch new ideas into the world. An entrepreneurial mindset is not just a necessary skillset for our business school graduates anymore. Our mission with this Big Idea is to establish a cross-disciplinary culture of innovation and entrepreneurship: To facilitate new technology and social innovation ventures; And catalyze growth of the regional innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are developing new ways to engage students in the theory and practice of creating value from ideas and opportunities. This Big Idea will facilitate student and faculty led research and innovation, leading to the start-up of commercial ventures. Entrepreneurship is already foundational to the Texas State culture and experience. You don’t have to look far to see this on our campuses, from our materials doctoral program, to STAR Park, to our proven track record of successfully launching a PhD-student-led company every year for the past five years. We’ve achieved this because of our commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration. A computer science student may have a brilliant idea for a new product, but needs the help of marketing and business students to bring the product to market. A fashion merchandising major can envision a high tech new smart fabric that would be a hit with consumers, but needs the expertise of a materials scientist to bring it to fruition. This is happening every day at Texas State. With our fifth and final Big Idea, we can expand our small business incubator and accelerator programs to see even more of this collaboration.
So among our five Big Ideas, you can see how they are interconnected — they enhance and complement one another. By combining our expertise across the five Big Ideas, there’s no limit to the innovation we can bring to bear on the problems and opportunities of the future. We can harness big data to help doctors create targeted treatment plans for mental health disorders. We can leverage our culture of entrepreneurship and innovation to launch new companies that create smart materials. We are only limited by our imagination.
Now that we have defined these five Big Ideas, we will work with research partners, donors, alumni, and corporations to expand the reach and impact of each one.
In closing, let me share a final thought. You are one of the driving forces that makes this venture possible — our partners, leaders, and colleagues in the Texas Innovation Corridor. We know that because our region has fully embraced a culture of disruption for the greater good, our innovation and our students can thrive.