Interim President Michael Middleton shares the impact of the UM System on Buchanan County in a guest column published Feb. 20, 2016 in the St. Joseph News Press.
When I was appointed interim president of the University of Missouri System last November, after three decades of serving in academic and leadership roles on our Columbia campus, I was both honored and humbled by the awesome responsibility before me.
Becoming president of the entire UM System has allowed me to reflect on something I always knew to be true, but perhaps didn’t take the time to truly appreciate: that all six million Missourians, in communities across our state and in all 114 counties, have a connection to the UM System.
The UM System is a precious asset to take great pride in, to support and to strengthen. Arguably, no other institution in our state is more pivotal to our standard of living, our economic and physical wellbeing, and our future. Just consider, for example, how the UM System impacts St. Joseph and Buchanan County every day.
Currently, we educate more than 77,000 students on our four campuses (the University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla and the University of Missouri-St. Louis), providing the talented workforce that is critical to our state’s employers. Of that number, 279 students are residents of Buchanan County, many of who will return, educated and ready, to join the workforce and help boost the St. Joseph-area economy upon graduation.
Many of those graduates will follow in the footsteps of people like Dr. Amy Fitzgerald, a St. Joseph native and a graduate of our University of Missouri-St. Louis’ School of Optometry. Dr. Fitzgerald returned to her hometown after graduating from UMSL in 1997, and now serves residents of the area as an optometrist at Optical Options, a locally owned and operated eye care center in St. Joseph.
The people of St. Joseph also benefit from the many research advances discovered on our campuses, from life-saving medical cures to the powering of some of our state’s most important industries like agriculture, high-tech manufacturing and aerospace. In 2015 alone, UM System research brought in more than $295 million in funding to the state of Missouri, further helping to spur our statewide economy.
Our vast University of Missouri Health Care system provides health services to hundreds of thousands of Missourians, including in the St. Joseph area, where 127 residents of Buchanan County were treated by a MU Health Care physician in 2015. Another 100 residents of the county were seen at the local UMKC School of Dentistry clinic last year.
We share our expertise in Missouri communities small and large across our state through University of Missouri Extension. Every year, more than 2.5 million Missourians turn to our Extension programs and offices in every county to seek greater practical knowledge, learn to solve problems, adapt to change and make informed decisions.
During 2015, the Extension office in Buchanan County had more than 46,000 contacts. Extension always has been a point of pride for me as my wife, Dr. Julie Middleton, who currently serves as director of organizational development for Extension, has dedicated much of her professional career to this invaluable program.
Another UM System-affiliated program, the Missouri Research and Education Network (MOREnet), further impacts local Missouri communities. MOREnet provides Internet connectivity, technical support, videoconferencing services, network security and training to 800 Missouri schools, public libraries, health care organizations and local government offices.
In Buchanan County, MOREnet provides services to the Buchanan, East Buchanan, Mid-Buchanan and St. Joseph school districts, Mosaic Life Care, Missouri Western State University and the St. Joseph Public Library.
There are far more examples, but the point remains the same. For decades, the UM System has provided indispensable service in helping our state, and the St. Joseph area, move forward.
We have challenges now, as we have in the past and will certainly face in the future. But our mission of education, research, economic development and service has been making Missourians proud for generations. Our university is as strong as ever, and will always be a beacon of hope for our state’s young people.
- Michael Middleton, interim president of the University of Missouri System