“You told Ryan you’d make him brownies.” She was smiling but not joking. I’d promised and, arms crossed, Dr. Stephanie Kidd wasn’t going to let me forget.
Let’s face it: It’s easy to make a casual promise. It makes you feel good in the moment. We’d all make our bedtimes more often if we didn’t worry about keeping those promises. I have enough to do and, besides, do you know how long it takes for a pan of miso brownies to bake?
Public-facing institutions, like universities, often say the right things about diversity and inclusiveness. Using our educated eloquence, we frame and contextualize and empathize with sexes and genders and races that we historically excluded or that we failed to nurture or that we simply ignored. Despite our significant progress, there is so much room for improvement. Realizing that improvement takes imagination, courage, and leadership.
Any project led by Dr. Kidd is the opposite of a casual promise. The University of Nebraska is a public institution that is there for every Nebraskan. Dr. Kidd not only reaches out to everyone, she measures that outreach, studies the results, and adjusts and plans accordingly. Be it through engaging the public via social media, architecting the Opportunity Corps program, or simply ensuring that all the inhabitants of 3929 Harney Street are treated equitably under the rules of the University.
I have only grown to appreciate her role as a leader in the 18 months we’ve been working together. Having served in institutional leadership roles in other colleges, Dr. Kidd has an impressive range of skills to deftly navigate the academic-industrial complex. She has built research collaborations with faculty, designed educational programs, and authored curricula. Dr. Kidd has trained multiple cohorts of interns, educated classes of professionals, and cultivated the future of UNeTech with ferocious imagination.
Her imagination comes across in a variety of ways: the Microsoft Teams messages with a link to a grant RFP and an idea to adapt UNeTech programming to fit new opportunities; a new way to recruit students for experiential learning opportunities; a social media hack to promote a company in the incubator — Dr. Kidd is a creative performer. In that she has been a generous collaborator as we improvise UNeTech.
Nailing the performance matters. Technology entrepreneurship is powerful. It enables new inventions, creates new products, and grows our economy. It also enables billionaire space travel, creates mega yachts, and grows underlying social rifts. When I had the opportunity to lead something new, I didn’t want its success to become part of the problem. Entrepreneurship is a promise to the future — and I wasn’t confident that I, or the University, wouldn’t make it a casual promise.
But with Dr. Kidd at UNeTech I am. Her interest in the new inventions begins with an appreciation of the wonder of new technology but deftly moves to the impact those inventions can have on the broader community. With a journalistic focus, she contextualizes the gee-whiz of an invention into a story about people. Dr. Kidd sees a new health startup as the chance to tell one entrepreneur’s story, a new way to protect patients and caregivers from respiratory disease as the way to tell the story of a public-private partnership, and a new medical device as a chance to innovate on an innovation. She owns the community beat at UNeTech.org, and it’s only through that community emphasis will university innovation meaningfully impact the lives of people.
So what is UNeTech inclusively? It is a realization that the University and all its eccentric characters play on a broader public stage. The show is best when it is for the broadest audience and we must constantly work harder to invite everyone in. With Dr. Kidd in the show I am confident that we’ll pack the house.