R. David Pershing: reimagining a storied Utah landmark for inclusive and welcoming leadership

SALT LAKE CITY – I experienced this world firsthand. As the first African-American president of the University of Utah’s Board of Trustees, I’ve always worked at being an example of inclusive and welcoming leadership to the very diverse population of the state. I want people of all backgrounds to know we want to be a global university.

A great university needs a great community. And that comes from a collaborative approach that represents not only the strongest leaders, but also the collective efforts of students, faculty, staff, parents, students, alumni, philanthropists, and other stakeholder groups. That is why the U.’s recent redevelopment of Massey Hall is so exciting. It marks the center of the state of Utah’s emerging innovation sector, and I am pleased to call Massey Hall my home.

Last year, I visited Massey Hall with some friends and professors after it had been in such disrepair for so long. The 100-year-old university landmark had been empty and had deteriorated into a real and dangerous threat to the university community. Those who loved Massey Hall were outraged.

Over three months, university staff, local philanthropists, business leaders, and engineers met in Massey Hall, cutting their way through the huge brick campus building, discovering they had been able to renovate it and turn it into more than a place of learning and networking.

Their efforts came together in one of the best strategies I have seen at a university over the last several years: working across disciplinary boundaries.

With leadership from my friends and colleagues in all departments of the university, we transformed Massey Hall into the Salt Lake Valley’s first and only R&D and innovation center, home to 16 commercial areas including neuroscience, advanced materials, 3D printing, new digital photo processing techniques, computer software design, and biochemistry.

Our work spanned every department at the university – and that is what set us apart. The university campus is not the only place in the state where students are training for tomorrow’s economy. But we are taking action right here at the birthplace of this innovation sector and using our extraordinary resources and strength.

The university’s website lists 42 leading Utah companies, and often Massey Hall is used as a launching pad for these companies’ projects and research.

Looking out from the double glass atrium for three hours, the hillside tops above us give us an immediate sense of the state’s pioneer spirit and entrepreneurial ability. We have more than 2 million acres of state-owned land just outside of Salt Lake City and more than 11 million acres in all Utah, giving us a unique opportunity for economic growth.

I am thrilled that this unique design has been completed. But it does not end there. Our foundations and donors will continue to work with the University of Utah to further transform the city and the state.

Years ago, when I worked at the University of Arkansas, I looked around our beautiful state Capitol building, reflecting the Arkansas Valley’s history and all that it means to the diverse population of the state. That’s what happened in the valley when the U. renovated Massey Hall and re-purposed it for use by students, faculty, staff, and the community.

Working together, we are shaping our schools, businesses, and communities to fulfill our dreams and invent new solutions to Utah’s greatest challenges.

I have been there.

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