Return with me, if you will, to one of the darkest periods in the history of our Republic — the first two years of the Civil War. The battles of those days are still engraved in our national consciousness 150 years later — Sumter … Bull Run … Shiloh … Antietam.
In the midst of this rising tide of carnage that heralded a long and bloody war, on July 2, 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act.
The first volleys of cannon fire at Gettysburg were still a year away and the end of the war nearly three years away, yet this wartime act was not intended for wartime advantage. The “Act donating Public Lands to the several States and Territories which may provide Colleges for the Benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts” is often cited as the first federal aid to higher education.
Not only did the Morrill Act “lay the foundation for the democratization of public higher education” in the words of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), but it made a significant investment in the knowledge base and the human capital behind the major drivers of the nation’s economy of its day.
As we mark the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act with our APLU partners, the University of Delaware — a Land Grant, Sea Grant and Space Grant university — sees our Path to Prominence™ very much aligned with the spirit of the Morrill Act. Our Commitment to Delawareans, including its pledge of financial support and its academic roadmap outlining the coursework essential for preparing Delaware students for admission to UD, continues to increase readiness and access to higher education for the citizens of our state.
At UD, our research is not only creating new knowledge and new technologies, but launching new companies and driving economic development and job creation. Researchers across the University’s seven colleges are actively engaged in creating the future.
A few examples include improved communications technologies for autonomous underwater vehicles that are exploring the ocean’s depths — and its health after events like oil spills; beneficial bacteria that help plants resist drought and disease; grid-integrated vehicles that can help utilize the battery capacity of electric and hybrid vehicles for large-scale energy storage; new devices to improve the lives of individuals with mobility challenges — from babies with cerebral palsy to wounded soldiers; new hydrogel materials for tissue repair and controlled drug delivery; lightweight composite materials that improve vehicle strength and fuel efficiency for both civilian and military applications; new policy initiatives and model legislation to speed the deployment of new and sustainable energy technologies — and the list could go on.
Delaware-based companies launched by UD researchers are creating jobs in areas such as biofuels, pollutant and hazardous agent detection, and hardware and software for advanced computing, to name a few. And our Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus on the site of the former Newark Chrysler Assembly Plant will create new opportunities for ventures like these, and for new partnerships in areas of national need such as energy, environment, health and security.
As we trace the arc of history from the Morrill Act of 1862, it is worth recognizing the incredible impact of our Land Grant universities over the past 150 years in expanding and unleashing the creative talents of our greatest resource — people! That, after all, is the objective, and it is one not lost on the rest of the world.
On a recent visit to Beijing to visit a new energy research institute at a new technology park, what struck me most was not the state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, but the slogan repeated at regular intervals along the construction fence: “From ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China.’ ”
The message for the U.S. is clear: as we pay belated attention to restoring the base of American manufacturing, we must not lose sight of the central role of the knowledge economy in our future — because the rest of the world won’t. Outstanding Land Grant research universities like the University of Delaware are absolutely critical to our ability to meet that global challenge.