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Stephen Lemkuhle

Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle will represent Rochester within the University and community, state, region, legislature, and public and private sectors.

Connect and commit

A Q&A with the first chancellor of the Rochester campus

By Gayla Marty

From Brief, Sept. 26, 2007

Stephen Lehmkuhle took the helm as the first chancellor of the University's new campus in Rochester on Sept. 10. Formerly the senior vice president of academic affairs for the four-campus University of Missouri system, Lehmkuhle brings strong experience in leadership, collaboration, and building partnerships.

Lehmkuhle (LEM-cool) earned a bachelor's degree in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, and a doctorate in experimental psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. His research and teaching focused on visual neuroscience, and the work of his research teams resulted in better understanding of conditions such as dyslexia, visual losses in the elderly, and visual attention processes. It's a background well-matched to the Rochester area's high-growth medical and technology corridor.

He spoke last week about Rochester, the emerging University campus, and what lies ahead.

UMNnews: What drew you to the University of Minnesota-Rochester? Lehmkuhle: This is a new venture--that's what attracted me to the position. How many opportunities do you get in this nation to be part of starting a new university?

My mantra is to have a focused commitment to educating students and generating and applying knowledge. Throughout my career--as a faculty member and now as an administrator--that's how I've wanted to have an impact.

What makes Rochester the place for a new University of Minnesota campus?

When you say "Rochester, Minnesota" outside of Minnesota, people immediately think of the Mayo Clinic and all that involves. When you look from a statewide and even from a national perspective at the assets in the Rochester area--with Mayo, IBM, and all of the other associated high-growth industries--and you know that we're trying to build more knowledge- or innovation-based economies, a critical ingredient that needs to be part of that cluster is a research university. It's a good, strategic investment that the state is making to raise the quality of life for all of Minnesota

I'd read a lot about the commitment to higher education in Rochester, but to experience it is something different. The people of Rochester truly value education as a public good, and they understand the importance of growing and developing the presence of the University of Minnesota in that region to their long-term economic vitality. Their commitment is--I've been using the word "contagious."

What's happening right now at UMR?


UMR currently offers courses in the following fields, delivered locally by faculty from the Duluth and Twin Cities campuses. Rochester students can earn a variety of degrees, from certificates to doctorates.

* Business
* Education
* Fine arts
* Health sciences
* Interpreting
* Nursing (BSN)
* Public health
* Social work (MSW)
* Technology

See more information about UMR's academic programs.

We've just moved the University of Minnesota-Rochester downtown from the edge of town. This is strategic because we want to be close to Mayo and all the activity. Rochester has a very significant downtown area--for a population of roughly 100,000, its downtown is more like a city of half-million or a million people, which has to do with the many people--I believe around half a million each year--who visit the Mayo Clinic. As a result, there is a hotel industry, restaurants, shops, and other businesses...the downtown is vibrant. And UMR is going to attract more young people downtown, making it even more vibrant.

Right now we serve about 400 students but have no degree programs of our own. One of our roles is to be Rochester's front door to the entire University of Minnesota system. We offer several programs from the Twin Cities and Duluth. There's no need to recreate existing degree programs, but to create access to them. We provide the local support to make those programs successful, and we provide support to Rochester students. That's going to continue and probably expand.

What's next?

We're working toward admitting students and delivering lower-division courses, particularly in the science and math fields, because those are the courses that will feed the health-related and technology-related degrees that are going to be the signature of Rochester.

That said, the Rochester area does have unique needs in the health sciences and the biotechnology fields, and we will want to develop and launch some new programs and over time, we hope, create wider access to them for the rest of the state through our partner campuses. Right now, we're facilitating the development of a biomedical informatics and computational biology program that works with a number of departments and colleges on the Twin Cities campus--mathematics, computer science--and bring to the table faculty and expertise at Mayo and IBM. In related research...we're serving as a support structure to bring together private-public partnerships that will assemble a competitive team of scientists, able to solicit and garner federal funds and grow this very important research field.

And we need to be involved in economic development issues for Rochester, southeast Minnesota, and even the state. I particularly would like to explore ways to develop entrepreneurship programs so we can populate the region with entrepreneurs who will have the skill sets to help retain some of this new knowledge locally rather than letting it migrate to the coasts. We really want the full economic impact of our new knowledge to reside here in Minnesota.

I think because of the nature of the activities of the Mayo Clinic and IBM, Rochester has a very diverse and international community. I could see, down the road, international partnerships that would build on those already established relationships.

How do you see UMR's role in the University as a whole?

Because it's new and emerging, UMR will be innovative and entrepreneurial. I see it serving in some ways as a test bed for the rest of the University to explore new avenues--particularly in the learning paradigms--and see if they are more effective and more efficient. Students are changing, and they're going to continue to change, and we need to consider different learning models. Then, can we scale those learning models to support a large number of students? It's an empirical question at this point, untested. We'll be small, and as we grow, we'll see if we can scale it up. The excitement about Rochester is that, being new, we really are free to explore different ways, different pedagogies, different approaches, and we're going to take advantage of that.

What challenges do you see ahead?

We have many of the same challenges as anywhere in higher education. Workforce needs are changing...the workforce will demand a postsecondary degree--people are not going to get jobs without it. Funding models are changing, and we have to diversify revenue sources. The solutions clearly are going to come through partnerships--the future of the University of Minnesota-Rochester will depend on them. That's something that I worked on extensively at the University of Missouri. We're going to have a variety of partnerships--with Mayo, IBM, Winona State, Rochester Community and Technical College, and with the economic development groups...there's a broad range of partnerships to be developed.

Part of the future of any university is going to be a student body that reflects the diversification and the globalization of our society. Every university in this nation needs to work very closely with our K-12 partners and make sure we create avenues for all students to attend college, now and in the future. You'll hear me often say that college begins in kindergarten. That means that we need to be supportive of our students' entire educational journey.

You drink from a fire hose when you first start a position like this, and it will take awhile for me to put all the pieces together. But I believe that jobs like these are a marathon and not a sprint--you've got to pace yourself. Things that are worth doing have got to sustain themselves over the long term, so you've got to be willing to fully commit.

Your field was experimental psychology. Does it relate to the work you do now?

My research field is in visual processing--how the brain processes visual information. I studied how individual cells in the brain encode information. Individual cells can't do very much individually--frankly, they're dumb. The power of the brain is in its interconnectivity. Every cell in the brain interconnects with other cells--probably 10,000 other cells on the average.

It's the same thing in this work: networks enable or empower the institution. I see my role as a leader to be a critical node in that network and to build the interconnectivity of the institution--students, faculty, staff, private partners, the general public, and community supporters. I need to interconnect them around the vision of common purpose for the institution. Once you build and nurture that network, in a way that builds on your history, you'll be in a much better position to adjust to change.

Outside of your work, what do you do for enjoyment?

I have two ways to relax--I run and I golf. When I run, I think about problems--my best ideas I get when I'm running. I enjoy golf for the exact opposite reason--you cannot think of anything but hitting a golf ball, so it's a break from everything else.

Living downtown, I've discovered some running paths. I can go one block over and run along the river--it's really nice. And there's a public golf course about three blocks away but I haven't got my golf clubs out this point, that will probably have to wait until next year. FURTHER READING UMR welcomes the first chancellor

"Center expands training in critical health professions," August 2006