What is Our Secret Sauce?

By Latha Ramchand, Provost

Oct. 2, 2019



Every university I have been at aspires to be the world’s best. Every university wants to be ranked in the top 5. Every university wants to be in a never-ending stream of billion-dollar fund raising campaigns.

It is not so much what we want to do or be, it is how we get there. What is our ‘how’ – what are our unique assets – what do we do that no other university does? Warren Buffet calls this an organization’s ‘moat’ – that which confers a competitive and lasting advantage. What is our ‘moat’?

We are an AAU member, we are an SEC school, we are an APLU member, we are Missouri’s flagship institution. If you unpack these labels what lies beneath? As we share on our connector site, we practice ‘engaged scholarship’ which stems from a reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship between the university and the public. In other words, our research matters.

Here is one to consider –
We have an array of health assets like few other universities – from understanding how plants respond to stress; to studying pigs in an effort to combat cancer and other diseases like no other university is capable of doing; to strong academic programs in veterinary medicine, nursing, health professions; to a world class academic medical center- Mizzou has a complete range of health assets. Dig deeper and you notice more. Recently, Mizzou added its tenth member to the National Academy of Sciences – Professor Tom Spencer. Tom arrived at Mizzou in 2005 and talks about research as if it were his calling. As he describes it – “Rarely in life do you get the opportunity to be in a profession that really excites you- I’m in that profession and now at a university where the potential is unlimited.” Tom’s work in reproductive and developmental biology is internationally acclaimed. How does his work impact the public?

Tom studies ways to increase fertility in beef and dairy cattle. This helps cattle farmers reduce cattle deaths, hence reduce economic losses. As Program Director of the Interdisciplinary Reproduction and Health Group (IRHG), Tom also studies how fertility issues in cattle can help solve fertility problems in women and improve reproductive outcomes. Tom has an appointment in both the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources and the School of Medicine. His work is interdisciplinary, his work is unique.

What is even more unique about Tom is that a conversation with him is generally not so much about his own work but more about the National Swine Resource and Research Center (NSRRC) at Mizzou. Tom speaks with fervor about the unique assets that the NSRRC offers. Established in 2003, the NSRRC provides access to swine models that help biomedical researchers in a variety of fields improve their understanding of human disease. Thanks to researchers like Randy Prather and Kevin Wells, the NSRRC is known the world over after for its ability to deliver swine models to researchers who are interested in studying solutions to human disease. The NSRRC was created at Mizzou and in a fifteen year time span, has grown to become a unique, and sought-after asset. Thank you Professors Randy Prather, Kevin Wells, and your team at the NSRRC. And thank you Tom – you speak on behalf of your colleagues, you are a staunch advocate for what is Mizzou’s most unique, home-grown asset – Midwestern humility and a culture of excellence.

Your turn – what are Mizzou’s unique home-grown assets?