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90 in 90: Dennis Assanis, University of Delaware

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Learn … Innovate … Build … Repeat
Throughout my career, I’ve lived and worked on and around university campuses as a student, teacher, researcher and administrator. The dynamic culture of higher education is uniquely challenging and inspiring, but the lessons I’ve learned are applicable anywhere.

University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis

Keep your eyes on the horizon
You need a long-term vision of where you’re going and agile, strategic plans for how you’ll get there. It’s easy to be absorbed by the crisis of the day, but it’s critical to think deeply about how you can have the greatest impact. Focusing on the future also helps you pivot when circumstances change, so develop a Plan B and a Plan C that also fit your vision.

Turn obstacles into opportunities
When the pandemic hit, the University of Delaware switched to online learning almost overnight. It wasn’t easy, but we discovered new ways of teaching that now allow us to reach more students in more ways than ever. UD will always be a physical presence in Delaware, even as we continue to blend our in-person and online operations.

Bring new life to old things
Building on the rich heritage and culture of your institution, continue to evolve and reposition for the future. For instance, when fire nearly destroyed a major building at the heart of our campus, we reimagined a modern interdisciplinary teaching and research facility that focuses on neuroscience, human disease and quantum science and technology.

Bring new things to life
The Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus at UD — on the site of the former Chrysler plant — could have become just another industrial park. But we’re building a vibrant, walkable community where students, innovators, entrepreneurs and the public interact with each other every day. More than 3,000 people work there now.

Everyone can be an entrepreneur
At UD, the Horn Entrepreneurship program is open to students from every discipline, not just business. For 10 years, it has helped cultivate an innovation mindset that has sparked incredible ideas that students are turning into successful ventures. It’s one element of a whole ecosystem at UD that supports creative thinkers and leaders.

It’s all about people
No one succeeds alone, so build great teams through your honesty, trust and integrity. Work to inspire your people and let yourself be inspired by them. I deeply value diversity — in race and ethnicity, in backgrounds and perspectives, in expertise and personality. Diverse teams make better decisions, grounded in reality.

Know thyself
UD and Delaware have tremendous strengths in chemical engineering, materials science, biotechnology and many similar disciplines. We leveraged those resources to help bring the headquarters of the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) here. This initiative is now attracting even greater investment in research and workforce development.

Find partners who strengthen your vision
Public, private, nonprofit and academic partners — more than 30 at STAR Campus, such as Chemours, and more than 200 with NIIMBL — help UD extend its reach and impact around the world. Find those who will complement your strengths and contribute something unique toward reaching your shared goals.

Expand your reach
UD is a community of nearly 30,000 students, faculty and staff, plus more than 50,000 alumni in Delaware, with a $3.2 billion impact on the state’s economy. Every part of the University is important, which is why we’ve invested in our teaching and research facilities in Wilmington, Dover, Georgetown and Lewes.

Stay true to your core mission
I firmly believe that the University’s and my most important and fundamental job is to ensure that our students get an outstanding education and that we lead them to success. Establish and stay true to the core mission of your institution, and let it guide everything you do.

Dennis Assanis is president of the University of Delaware.

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