Center Maryland Editorial: An Opportunity That Cannot Be Missed

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Together, the University of Maryland’s premier campuses in College Park and Baltimore are poised for greatness.

But for this to happen, it will take minds open to new ideas and a willingness to bring the state’s two great public research institutions together in a synergy that will make them leaders in the 21st century’s “knowledge economy.”

Wallace Loh, president of the UM College Park campus, likes to say that joining his flagship institution’s 9,000 faculty/staff (including three Nobel Prize laureates and three Pulitzer Prize winners) with the Baltimore professional schools’ 6,300 faculty/staff specializing in the health sciences and law, will make the combined entity far greater than the sum of its parts.

One plus one would equal far more than two, he says.

Together, these UM academic/research powerhouses would produce a bonanza of collaborative inventions, spin-off commercialization and stunning breakthroughs in emerging fields of knowledge.

A two-campus University of Maryland would rank No. 12 in total research dollars and No. 8 among public institutions, nationally. It would outrank such schools as Stanford and MIT.
It would rank No. 11, with nearly $1 billion in federal research dollars, ahead of Penn State, the University of Virginia and Berkeley.
The number of doctoral degrees awarded by the two campuses would rank No. 5 in the nation.

The ability of an expanded University of Maryland to recruit teaching and research superstars would grow many-fold. The new UM also would be a magnet for drawing more of the country’s – and the world’s – best and brightest undergraduate and graduate students to Maryland.

Think of the discoveries and advances that will happen when academic experts in highly diverse and now separated fields join forces.

Rigid university silos would disappear as faculty members on each campus combine their formidable brainpower in such areas as information technology, engineering, chemistry, physics, informatics, bioscience, biotechnology, bioengineering, nano-biotechnology, virtual reality, data analytics, medicine and pharmacology.

We’ve already gotten a glimpse of the future through a College Park-Baltimore partnership called “MPower.”

The year before MPower began, faculty from the two UM campuses submitted just four joint grant proposals. Last year, there were 112.

Before MPower, joint grant awards totaled $3 million. Last year, professors working collaboratively on the two campuses won $26 million in grants. The grand total for MPower’s three years is nearly $80 million in joint research awards.

We’ve come a long way in a short time. Yet we can do better if the two UM campuses are melded solidly together.

It’s a win-win for students and faculty, for College Park and especially for Baltimore.

UM Ventures, the technology transfer agency for the two campuses, has seen a 50 percent rise in annual invention disclosures and a 100 percent increase in start-up companies formed and licenses awarded – in just four years.

On many of these inventions and start-ups, scientists from College Park and Baltimore worked with UM Law School faculty and students to turn ideas into concrete reality. They consulted with pharmacy, nursing, dental and social work experts to make sure their research innovations would translate into practical, useful and successful products that benefit and improve society.

These collaborations hold incredible potential for turning Baltimore into a hotspot of scientific discovery and new health science industries.

The successful and growing UM Biopark in Baltimore could be just the beginning in a commercialization spurt that generates thousands of well-paying urban jobs and opportunity.

Hurdles remain in bridging the gap between College Park and the UM professional campus in Baltimore, though legislators have come up with welcome modifications to the bill that should mollify doubters.

Amendments approved in committee: 1) remove the possibility that UMB would lose its campus president in this strategic partnership; and 2) make it clear that UMB’s much-praised community activities to improve West Baltimore and downtown’s west side are considered part of its mission.

Lawmakers in Annapolis seem to recognize that bringing Maryland’s preeminent public academic research forces together is in everyone’s best interest. It is an opportunity that cannot be missed.

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