President Johnson discusses future of higher education at downtown forum
Conversation covers university priorities and partnerships
Ohio State University President Kristina M. Johnson discussed building up the culture of entrepreneurship and collaboration at the university during an appearance at the Columbus Metropolitan Club this week.
Johnson joined university trustee Alex Fischer at one of the club’s weekly town hall-style forums to share her vision for the future of the university and Ohio State’s relationship with the city of Columbus and the state of Ohio.
“Here’s the exciting thing about The Ohio State University: It was built to allow people from ordinary backgrounds to do extraordinary things,” Johnson said.
Johnson pointed out that her grandfather was a farmer who grew up in Ohio and earned his engineering degree at Ohio State. She said the mission of providing affordable access to a quality education continues to this day.
Doing extraordinary things requires collaboration and initiative: Johnson pointed to the university’s COVID-19 testing program as an example.
Ohio State was able to scale up testing from 300 students per day to 3,000 within two weeks. The program required support from leaders of the Wexner Medical Center, health sciences, the Corporate Engagement Office and other areas of the university to make it a success.
Johnson said innovation in areas like drug development and drug delivery will require a similar cross-disciplinary approach.
“I wouldn’t expect a quantum computer to be built in the Wexner Medical Center any more than the Wexner Medical Center would expect the Physics Department to invent and develop a vaccine. But working together, they absolutely will,” she said.
Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, asked Johnson to describe how her experience as a leader in the private sector translated to leading Ohio State.
“I think being an entrepreneur is doing the right thing without being told. It’s taking initiative,” Johnson said. “You can be an entrepreneur within your own company or your own unit. It should be endemic to everything we do.”
The university and the business community in Columbus and Ohio should continue to expand internship opportunities for students, said Johnson, noting that OSU Extension also offers an opportunity to extend the reach of Ohio State research and technology into all 88 counties.
“Being able to be the engine that helps companies scale up is what we want to be. So that means engaging early so we can get those students into those experiences,” she said.
Johnson also addressed Ohio State’s current work to confront systemic racism. She meets weekly with the Task Force on Racism and Racial Inequities and expects to announce some recommendations as soon as next week during her State of the University Address.
This moment in time calls for “coming to grips with racism and systemic racism and doing more than recognizing it, but contributing every day to building an anti-racist society,” she said.
When Fischer asked what this challenging time has taught her as a leader, Johnson said the main lesson has been continuing to show up and forge ahead.
“What can I do today to be my best? This is about what we can teach and what we can show by example,” she said. “What can we do to continue to persevere and move forward?”