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The Academic and Corporate Relations team.

Academic and Corporate Relations Center director Dick Sommerstad (left) and his team. The U established the new center to make its expertise more available to local business.

The new front door of the U

By Pauline Oo

Jan. 26, 2007; updated April 23, 2008

Hotel concierges field dozens of requests each day, from the mundane (restaurant reservations, theater tickets, local transportation or Internet cafes) to the sublime ("help me plan a marriage proposal that will knock the socks of my intended"). No question or need is impossible, and virtually every request is fulfilled.

The University of Minnesota's new Academic and Corporate Relations Center (ACRC) is no different. Dick Sommerstad, the center's director, and his staff of five handle numerous questions each day--meeting any business need, big or small, in quick time. The center will even set up a meeting for you if you ask.

"We had a guy call us on Friday with 30 part-time jobs for $15 an hour and wanted to know where to go. We had another guy call this morning looking for somebody who is doing research in a specific area ... whether you want to hire students, do collaborative research or find out if we have anybody doing research in A, B, C, D, E, F and G, you can call us," says Sommerstad. "If we can't [give you answers] within those [few] seconds, we will get back to you within 48 hours."

The center, which is being called the U's front door to the business community, is only six months old, but it already has much to be proud of. From July 2006 through the third week of January, the center received about 800 calls, referred people to about 950 different places in the University, placed a lot of students in jobs and internships and helped double the number of job listings on the U's GoldPASS career and resume system.

New umbrella

In April 2008, the Academic and Corporate Relations Center became a part of University Relations (UR), the U's central communications office. UR, located in Morrill Hall on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis, has five other departments: Government and Community Relations, News Service, Marketing, Internal Communications, and Creative Services.

"Say you're in a hotel in Mexico and you want to go to a restaurant within walking distance with seafood for dinner tonight," says Sommerstad. "You go out to the hotel lobby to find somebody who can help you, but nobody speaks English. That's kind of the way the University used to be. Unless you knew where the restaurant was and had a phone number and knew how to find it, you couldn't find it."

Sommerstad and his team--a receptionist, a coordinator and three relationship managers--are available Monday through Friday by e-mail or phone. (Relationship managers help their accounts--about 20 companies or organizations each--to navigate the U and identify appropriate people to work as consultants or in sponsored research. The companies include Target, Best Buy, 3M, Boston Scientific, Hormel Foods and Coloplast Corp. in Denmark.)

"What we're trying to do is connect all the pieces of the University through that Web site," says Sommerstad, making it easier for businesses to get what they need and want from the University.

Other universities have corporate relations offices or relationship managers, adds Sommerstad, but "the University is very unique in that we have the three-legged stool of the relationship managers, the concierge service and [a resource-rich Web site]."

The ACRC Web site offers a bounty of information--from University expertise to University events, including workshops for businesses around areas of research at the University. But the plan down the road, says Sommerstad, is to have a Google-like search engine on the Web site that would pull up everything related to what businesses might be looking for.

"What we're trying to do is connect all the pieces of the University through that Web site," he adds, making it easier for businesses to get what they need and want from the University.

Learn more

To learn more about the Academic and Corporate Relations Center, located at 1000 Westgate Ave. in St. Paul (along the bus transitway between the U's Twin Cities campus in St. Paul and Minneapolis), see the ACRC Web site or call 612-626-3438.

In spite of all they do to connect the outside world to the U, Sommerstad's team's expertise, attention and loving care isn't just for people outside the University.

"We find that 20 percent of our inquiries come from inside the University," says Sommerstad. "[The U community wants] to know where they can find certain things within the University, if the U has anybody that is working on this or that or [what businesses could help them host or sponsor a] workshop."

Take Joel Maturi, for instance. The athletics director recently asked Sommerstad for the names of five deans with "good senses of humor" that he could enlist for a promotional campaign.

Sommerstad, of course, had the answer. And you'll just have to wait to catch these ads to see who the funny deans are.

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