STAR Campus blends academics and research

Dennis Assanis
Dennis Assanis
Kathleen Dean
Kathleen Dean

In looking for comparisons to the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus, Kathleen Matt, dean of the university’s College of Health Sciences, says they’re hard to find.

With its blend of academics and research, the presence of public and private entities, health clinics open to area residents and, in the future, a relocated Newark train station and perhaps even a hotel, UD’s Science, Technology & Advanced Research Campus has few peers.

“There’s definitely nothing else like this on the East Coast,” says John Horne, president of Independence Prosthetics-Orthotics Inc., a tenant on the campus for two years. “Research, education, innovation — it’s an extremely unique opportunity,” he says.

And the opportunities will keep on multiplying because, as Matt says, “we’re not all the way to where we’re going.”

People have a tendency, Matt says, “to think of health care innovation being done in a silo.” But that’s not the case on the STAR Campus, built on the site of the former Chrysler assembly plant across South College Avenue from the UD athletic complex. “Here we’ve set it on the base of the entire university, and all the businesses are working together.”

Independence, which has operations at four other locations between Philadelphia and Dover, offers a prime example of the synergies available on the campus. Amputees come to Independence to be fitted for prosthetics, UD students work there as interns, and Independence collaborates with both the clinical research team in the university’s physical therapy department and with the BADER Consortium. BADER, also based on the STAR campus, helps injured military personnel and civilians with limb loss and limb difference benefit from research advances so they can return to their previously active lifestyles.

The labs and clinics on the STAR Campus provide practicum, research and internship experiences for students in all six departments of the College of Health Sciences: nursing, physical therapy, medical laboratory sciences, behavioral health and nutrition, kinesiology and applied physiology, and communication sciences and disorders. “They get their academics elsewhere on campus,” Matt says, “and they put it into practice here.”

The university-run health facilities, most notably the Nurse Managed Primary Care Center and the Physical Therapy Clinic, serve the general public, and those visits build awareness of the university’s programs and its community service.

Christiana Care operates a Care Now urgent care center on the campus, which Matt says serves as a complement to the Nurse Managed Primary Care Center.

Some of the enterprises located on the STAR Campus are not directly related to health sciences. Rather, they are innovative technology businesses like Bloom Energy, which manufactures fuel cells, and SevOne, which develops and maintains corporate technology infrastructure. The university-affiliated Delaware Technology Park also has a business incubator on site.

Even more is on the way, mostly as a continuation of a public-private partnership in which the university owns the land and Delle Donne & Associates constructs and owns most of the buildings.

A 10-story tower is scheduled for completion in August. It will feature a large auditorium and atrium on the main level, with space for research programs and clinics for the College of Health Sciences on the second through seventh floors. The top three floors will be leased “for business and public use,” Matt says. Those businesses do not necessarily have to be health-related, “but they have to provide some interaction with the university,” she says.

Two more major construction projects are now under way.

Chemours, which spun off from DuPont in 2015, is building a $150 million, 312,000-square-foot innovation center just to the south of completed structures on the campus. Chemours will move about 340 research and technician jobs from the Wilmington area to the STAR Campus when the building is completed in 2020.

To the west of the completed structures, the university is constructing the $156 million, six-story, 200,000-square-foot Biopharmaceutical Innovation Building, which will house the UD-based National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) and related businesses. NIIMBL’s mission, director Kelvin Lee says, is to develop technology that will help biopharmaceutical manufacturers produce drugs more reliably and get them to the patient faster. NIIMBL expects to move into the new building in January 2020.

Eventually, UD President Dennis Assanis says, tenants in the building will encompass the full spectrum of the biopharmaceutical industry — everything from researching and developing new drugs to manufacturing them and getting them to market.

Also in the works is the expansion and relocation of the Newark train station. When the project is completed next year, the station will be more accessible to the STAR Campus, making it even more attractive for businesses interested in locating in the area.

Meanwhile, the university is studying the feasibility of locating a hotel and conference center on the STAR Campus. Like the train station, the hotel would be another amenity that could add to the site’s appeal. In addition, Matt says, it could provide training opportunities for students in the university’s business and hotel and restaurant management programs.

The combination of train station, hotel and conference center, Assanis says, will make the campus “a nexus for innovation and engagement,” bringing together scientists, business leaders and government officials from everywhere between New York City and Washington, D.C. “It will catalyze this venue into a place where ideas are born.”

Slightly farther down the road, both chronologically and as construction continues, the campus will include a
“Graduate City,” featuring housing for graduate students and others, Assanis says.

Even now, with much more room to grow, Horne marvels at STAR’s uniqueness. “You can’t find anything like it anywhere,” he says.

Assanis, just completing his second year as UD president, admits that “it’s pretty awesome” to oversee the development of the new campus. “It’s fantastic to see the vision become a reality in real time.”

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