Research partnerships work to bring knowledge beyond U

Light rail in downtown Minneapolis

Public universities play a well-known role in creating new knowledge, but they must also bring that knowledge beyond the ivory tower and into the community.

A new pilot program at the University of Minnesota focuses on working with partners outside the U to create new knowledge and put it into play benefiting the community. External Stakeholder Engagement, launched earlier this year by the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, combines University research talent with one or more partners from community organizations, government agencies, industry and nonprofits to promote innovation across a range of disciplines.

Claudia Neuhauser, Ph.D., associate vice president for research and program leader, said the partnerships are designed to catalyze and sustain research between the University and external partners to accelerate the transfer of new knowledge for the public good — a cornerstone of the  research strategic plan, Five Years Forward.

Below are three pilot projects now underway on the Twin Cities campus with support from OVPR, academic units and external stakeholders. Going forward, Neuhauser said the pilot program will expand to include projects based at all U of M system campuses.

Streamlining public transit

U of M: Diwakar Gupta, Ph.D., professor of industrial and systems engineering with the College of Science and Engineering and the Center for Transportation Studies

External partners: Scott Cady, business analyst II, Bus Transportation, Metro Transit; Christine Kuennen, assistant director, Bus Administration, Metro Transit

Workforce optimization methods may help Metro Transit, the Twin Cities’ largest transit agency, manage its operating costs and fine-tune the size of its workforce while ensuring its service remains reliable.

University researcher Diwakar Gupta is working with Metro Transit experts Scott Cady and Christine Kuennen to develop new scientific methods for optimizing its bus and light-rail operations. In addition to helping Metro Transit balance costs with quality of service, the scientific approach may also lead to improvements in the morale, attendance rates and job satisfaction of bus and light-rail drivers.

These models will inform changes to workforce management practices, including in scheduling the optimal number of drivers to meet transit demands and in assigning overtime. The research team will document current practices, develop metrics for monitoring efficiency and reliability, and identify stressors on workforce availability.

“This project is grounded in math and optimizing our work, but its importance lies in helping our dispatchers and operators better understand the work and the effects its stresses have on them,” Cady said. “As we examine that stress and develop opportunities for improvement, we can truly help take care of the people behind Metro Transit.”

Improvements in Metro Transit’s operations can benefit the transportation needs of residents and visitors in the metropolitan area. Researchers will also make the project’s key takeaways available to other transit providers to expand the number of people who benefit from this research.

Informing Minnesota’s policies towards new Americans

U of M: Ryan Allen, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Urban and Regional Planning program, Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Benjamin Casper, J.D., director of the Center for New Americans, Law School

External partner: John Keller, executive director, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota; Juventino Meza, director, Research Justice Program, NAVIGATE Minnesota

In some U.S. states, undocumented immigrants have access to driver’s licenses and health care, while others explicitly prohibit such access. Minnesota lawmakers may soon need to decide the state’s stance on these policies.

A collaboration between University researchers Ryan Allen and Benjamin Casper, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s John Keller, and NAVIGATE Minnesota’s Juventino Meza will draw on legal scholarship and social science research to provide facts that will inform future debates and policy changes related to undocumented immigrants’ access to driver’s licenses and health care.

The project will examine the legal precedents and strategies other states have used to inform laws on these issues. It will assess travel behavior of impacted individuals, analyze state-by-state debates of the issue, create a national typology of current laws and provisions, and explore strategies to expand access to driver’s licenses and health care. The team plans to communicate their findings to the impacted community, community-based and advocacy organizations, scholars within and beyond the University, and legislative committees.

Keller and Meza said they are excited about the partnership’s potential to take on pressing public policy concerns related to all immigrants in Minnesota.

“By combining leading non-profits working to promote positive and inclusive policies for all of Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee communities with the expertise and resources of the law and policy professional schools, all of Minnesota will be better informed and our policies will be richer and more effective.”

Fresh perspectives in graphic design

U of M: Sauman Chu, Ph.D., professor and director of the Graphic Design Program, College of Design

External partner: Kelly Munson, creative, mono

The U’s graphic design faculty have wide-ranging expertise across many forms of scholarship and creative production. In holding their faculty positions, however, most of these faculty no longer participate in professional practice beyond the U.

Sauman Chu of the U’s Graphic Design Program has partnered with Minneapolis advertising agency mono to create a “designer in residence” position at the U. This designer will lead projects that help bridge the experimental and practical, applied and theoretical, functional and formal graphic design. This partnership will also help the Graphic Design Program strengthen its relationship with the professional field.

mono creative Kelly Munson will hold the designer in residence role for the current academic year. Munson will bring fresh approaches and perspectives to qualitative and quantitative research, speculative design projects, expressive works, and design journalism and criticism. Her efforts will add to the existing curriculum and further help prepare students for success as professional graphic designers.

“Our goal is to bring fresh and dynamic approaches and perspectives into our scholarship and creative production,” Chu said. “And we believe the research and speculative projects of the faculty will inspire the external stakeholder in a reciprocal way.”