Almost as soon as he’d been given a list of university presidents for consideration to give the keynote address at this year’s Science Foundation Arizona Erich Bloch Lecture and Dinner, William Harris received word from the namesake and technology magnate himself to disregard it.
“[Erich] called me and said, ‘Throw that list away. The only person who should speak is Crow,’ ” said Harris, president and CEO of the foundation.
Bloch was referring to Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow (pictured above right), who has overseen the decade-plus transformation of the university into a model for the New American University — an institution committed to access, excellence and impact, where research and discovery of public value is a top priority.
“Michael Crow is a person who shares many of Erich’s attributes as a strategic thinker and visionary,” Harris said during his opening remarks at the second annual event, this year dubbed “Advancing the Building Blocks of a Modern High-Tech Economy,” which took place Tuesday night on ASU’s Tempe campus and included Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey among its attendees.
Both Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) and former board member Bloch — creator of the IBM System/360, oft-considered one of the top technological accomplishments of all time — emphasize the increased potential for advancement when universities and industry work together. So after last year’s inaugural event featured a keynote address from industry leader John E. Kelly III, senior vice president for IBM, Bloch wanted this year’s speaker to come from the most innovative of the nation’s academic vanguard.
In a prerecorded video message played at the event, Bloch called Crow the “clear choice.”
Both Crow and the university — recently recognized by U.S. News and World Report as the most innovative university in the country, ahead of Stanford and MIT — were honored at the event with an award from SFAz, a public-private partnership committed to making connections between the sciences, business and education in Arizona.
Since its establishment in 2006, SFAz has played a critical role in building and diversifying the future of the state’s economy by providing grants that accelerate the discovery of knowledge and reaching out to the community to inspire a love of science among local youth.
During his talk Tuesday night, Crow addressed the crowd on the importance of supporting STEM education, not only for the purpose of producing a skilled professional workforce, but because it fosters a society of individuals capable of the kind of critical thinking required to develop creative “moonshot” ideas for the future.
“There is nothing, no rhetoric that you should be listening to that says that we cannot [improve STEM education], and at ASU we’re working vigorously to make that happen,” he said. “We have a new culture, and the culture is that we’re here to be a world-class research institution that is wildly successful and wildly inclusive of all kinds of students.”
He then shared a brief overview of how ASU is working to meet this need through growing enrollment in STEM-related disciplines and STEM-related degrees awarded, highlighting the university’s engineering education efforts in particular.
Crow’s talk was followed by a discussion with Gov. Ducey, moderated by former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan.
Crow and Ducey spoke about the need for cross-sector responsibility and collaboration in order to create a better, more prosperous future for Arizona, with the governor remarking, “I believe in our state and this vision of opportunity for all. ... Education is a state responsibility. We have to work hard on it, and we’ll never check the box and say we’re done.”