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Driven to Discover campaign

Have you seen the University's new "Driven to Discover" campaign, promoting the great research that goes on here at the U? Here's a link to the campaign's site.

Those of you who visited campus for Parents Weekend last weekend probably noticed the questions and answers posted on sidewalks on the East Bank. And if you live in Minnesota, you may have also seen some ads on television during the local new.

The Minnesota Daily ran a story earlier this week about the purpose of the campaign, and how students perceive it (follow the link to read the complete story, including comments from students):

Now that campus streets are plastered with bright yellow question boxes, students are questioning what's behind the University's new marketing campaign. The $2 million, two-year initiative, dubbed "Driven to Discover," aims to explain why the University wants to become one of the top three public research institutions in the world.

Ideally, the campaign will alert more Minnesotans about the importance of University research and how it affects their lives, said Linda Thrane, vice president for University relations.

"We found that there is broad awareness of the University and broad support for the University, but it doesn't go very deep," Thrane said. "In particular, (people) don't understand the research that makes us different from other higher education institutions in the state."

A 2006 survey conducted by Thrane's office shows that more Minnesotans think it is "very important" for the University to provide a high-quality education - more important than to become an international leader in research.

"So the University has a lot of work to do," Thrane said. "We need to get people to understand how beneficial research is and how it makes us different from other schools."

Today's Daily printed a couple of letters to the editor from undergraduates in response to the story about the campaign:

Driven to Discover what?

I have a question for Linda Thrane: How do random questions plastered to a campus sidewalk "help," as she says, "garner resources to support the research mission"? Does Thrane think students will be so inspired by whether or not Goldy is "all gopher" that they will donate their grocery money to research?

Does Thrane imagine that a question like "When will we have a cure for AIDS" somehow distinguishes the University of Minnesota from other universities who are also asking themselves the same question?

The main problem of the Driven to Discover campaign so far is that the marketers don't appear to understand how to ask a research-related question and instead have opted for some very broad questions that fail to highlight the large and unique body of research thriving at the University of Minnesota.

It's great that University students are submitting thoughtful questions to the panel of researchers online, but this success is invisible to the tax-paying public and due more to the quality of students and faculty than the effectiveness of the marketing campaign.

The University has paid $2 million for this campaign in order to help raise the profile of research at the University of Minnesota, but all I see so far is a bunch of expensive stickers that 1) tell me nothing new 2) minimize discussion of actual research projects and 3) are not, in fact, 15 paces apart.

Featuring the current projects and short biographies of University of Minnesota faculty on the sidewalks would have been a more sensible and direct way to highlight research at the University: Give research a compelling human face and tell the students and general public how many different ways research at the University improves the quality of life and economic well-being of both Minnesota and the world at large. I don't think this is too much to ask of a $2 million campaign. Academic scholarship drives this University. A marketing campaign that fails to put faculty research in the front seat and on the sidewalk doesn't make academic or economic sense.

Jennifer Smith
University undergraduate

Academics important

In response to Tuesday's editorial, "What is Driven to Discover?": Despite the almost annual tuition increase at the University of Minnesota and the increased student fees to fund a stadium that will be completed after many of us have graduated, how can the University explain how it is spending $2 million on an ad campaign for a controversial academic reorganization? Is it to try and persuade those of us who are still not convinced that becoming a top-three public research institution is not inherently better for the University, and most importantly, the students?

From the Daily's Tuesday article on the ad campaign: "A 2006 survey conducted by (Linda) Thrane's (vice president for University relations) office shows that more Minnesotans think it is 'very important' for the University to provide a high-quality education - more important than to become an international leader in research. 'So the University has a lot of work to do,' Thrane said. 'We need to get people to understand how beneficial research is and how it makes us different from other schools.' "

There you have it. The general pubic isn't as concerned about research as they are about good, quality education, so the University must spend $2 million in order to make us think, er, "understand," otherwise.

I'm happy I was accepted into the General College, before it was closed to make way for a top-three research Institution and was able to get an education at the University that has taught me to recognize the subtleties in speech and the written word that make you believe things you didn't even know you read.

Mark Davidson
University undergraduate

Your thoughts?