The Incalculable Value of a Public Research Institution
By James Weyhenmeyer
The first day of a new school year is marked by excitement and expectation, and today thousands of new and returning students are buzzing through Georgia State University’s campuses from downtown Atlanta, to Decatur and Dunwoody.
Yet Georgia State is not just a place where the next generation of nurses, teachers, artists and business leaders are educated. As a Tier 1 research university, it’s also a place where leading-edge scientific breakthroughs are made and inventions are born.
Investments in university research pay enormous dividends in the economic vitality of our region. In fiscal year 2017, research conducted at Georgia State garnered $147 million in external funding and created an economic impact of nearly $400 million. Our faculty produce new technologies that advance the state’s economy, such as a natural and safe method to extend the life of fresh produce, an innovation that benefits the agricultural industry and cuts down on food waste.
University research is also needed to tackle complex health problems and improve the population’s well-being. At Georgia State, our scientists are working to develop new drugs, therapies and vaccines.
These include a more effective seasonal flu vaccine, which would protect against a broad spectrum of viral strains, and new antiviral therapies for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), an infection responsible for more than 120,000 infant hospitalizations every year in the U.S.
We’ve also set our sights on some of the nation’s biggest public health challenges, such as obesity. The university’s Center for Obesity Reversal conducts research to find new ways of combatting the country’s obesity epidemic, which affects nearly a third of adults Georgia.
In the city and region, our research is changing lives on an individual level. Every day the After-School All-Stars program, run by education professor Dr. Walt Thompson, provides 3,000 middle-schoolers in metro Atlanta with academic assistance, wellness education and enrichment opportunities. SafeCare, a program proven to reduce child abuse and neglect created by Georgia State professor Dr. John Lutzker, is administered in every county in the state.
The Georgia Health Policy Center has helped more than 115 Georgia elementary, middle and high schools address childhood obesity and the poor health of students. And earlier this summer the university’s new Georgia Center for Education Policy began working with six of the largest metro area school districts, teaching administrators how to use advanced research methods to help improve student attendance, test scores and graduation rates.
Simply put, successful communities are anchored by successful public research institutions. On a national level these institutions drive our economy by investing in innovation and training the scientists and engineers whose skills are crucially needed. Locally, they provide jobs and attract new industry, as research and technology companies seek proximity to these hotbeds of workforce talent and world-class scientists.
Some of the most important scientific breakthroughs would never have occurred without collaboration among researchers. Teamwork makes for better results, and cities need partners, too. To address contemporary challenges and to spur economic growth and innovation, there is no better collaborator than a public research university like Georgia State.
James Weyhenmeyer is the Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Georgia State University.