December 5, 2023

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Teik Lim is the president of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a public polytechnic university.

In 2021, the New Jersey Institute of Technology worked with government agencies to establish a mass COVID-19 vaccination center that provided 221,450 vaccinations to the surrounding community over three months.

At its peak, it delivered more than 6,700 shots in a single day. The joint effort was a huge success and, more broadly, a testament to what effective collaboration between universities and government can achieve.

This example—in this case, a collaborative effort involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency—shows what higher education can accomplish in times of crisis through government partnerships.

But these relationships should not be reserved for emergencies. Colleges can work with government agencies to address the nation’s upcoming challenges, including issues from community health to access to education.

Teik Lim

Teik Lim

Permission granted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology

Take environmental pollution. Large research institutions in particular have the necessary resources to assess specific risks – from identifying the origin of pollutants to measuring the toxicity of hazardous chemicals.

For example, the US is estimated to have more than 450,000 brownfield sites – abandoned or underutilized properties due to potential contamination. These commercial and industrial sites can be expensive and difficult to redevelop. As a result, they remain unused for decades. If communities could clean up, redevelop and reinvest in brownfields, they could open up new opportunities for land use and neighborhood revitalization.

To address these concerns, the New Jersey Institute of Technology partnered with the state’s Office of Economic Development to establish the NJ Brownfields Assistance Center.

Led by our university, a team of industry and faculty experts in urban planning, environmental science, engineering and the social sciences provides the tools and resources necessary to redevelop brownfields. The Center recognizes brownfield reclamation as a path to environmental and social justice and provides free, targeted assistance to any New Jersey city, county government, and nonprofit organization with brownfield projects.

As a result, more New Jersey communities have been able to use these lands for a variety of purposes, including floodwater management, increasing affordable housing options, and facilitating job growth.

Universities should also explore how efforts can extend beyond community health. The devastating impact of the pandemic on employment and education will be felt in the coming years, giving universities greater urgency to develop strong partnerships at regional level to accelerate recovery in these areas – including upskilling and retraining for underrepresented and underrepresented students.

Universities must seek to strengthen their partnerships with local primary and secondary schools to help students prepare for and enroll in higher education. Through partnerships with neighboring schools and communities, the New Jersey Institute of Technology is doubling down on ongoing efforts to encourage Newark students to be interested in STEM and entrepreneurship.

One of these, the Math Success Initiative, works with our university with Newark Public Schools to provide instruction to beginning 12th graders and professional development to math certification teachers in the district.

Next, federally supported The Forensic Science Initiative was designed to encourage students’ interest in STEM careers by introducing them to forensic science. The Pre-College program welcomed its first class in the summer of 2022, and in the following fall semester, the university received 245 forensic applications—a nearly 40% increase from 179 applications in 2021.

To successfully cultivate long-term relationships and empower future generations of students, universities must undertake creative ways to inspire and help communities cope with the rapidly evolving pace of technology.

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