Students, professionals working to pass the measure R vote for Aggie Research Campus
Among the thousands of universities across the country, UC Davis is part of an elite group of 115 universities that are considered “R1” by the prestigious Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education annual list. R1 is the highest achievable classification, meaning UC Davis is deemed to be a “very high research activity university.”
In fact, many research universities have their own research campuses intended to attract science and technology companies and provide accessibility to labs and equipment. Top-ranking universities such as UC Berkeley, MIT and UNC all boast research campuses, and their students are often regarded as benefiting greatly by the employment opportunities and additional opportunities for real-life applications of their studies.
UC Davis, though classified in the same “R1” ranking among these prestigious campuses, does not have a research campus — yet. The closest alternative to a research campus is Inventopia, a coworking space in Davis for engineers and scientists. The founder of Inventopia, Tim Keller, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Davis, realized the need for such a workspace. The realization came after his experience with his startup VinPerfect, which created an oxygen-regulating wine cap.
“There were a lot of things that were very hard in starting that company that shouldn’t have been,” Keller said. “It was easier for me to go to Napa and find some unused space there than to stay here […] in Davis, even though Davis is the wine science capital of the universe. I wanted it to be easier for future entrepreneurs to do what I had done and not have to worry about things like lab space or tools.”
Keller said Inventopia is not able to address all of the needs of the entrepreneurial minds of Davis — startups require a “temporary light industrial and commercial space” to build their prototypes, which neither Inventopia nor the commercial real estate in Davis is able to provide.
Any new growth in Davis must pass through a measure R vote, and previous initiatives to build a research campus — which would provide such a space — have narrowly failed due to both a lack of voter turnout and a vocal minority opposed to new housing establishments. Molly Mermin, a third-year pharmaceutical chemistry major and executive director of the Davis College Democrats, is familiar with this opposition.
“There’s been a core group of people very opposed to a lot of housing developments,” Mermin said. “For example in Spring 2018, on the June ballot there was a housing development that would be near campus, and this project got sued. This kind of thing happens a lot. People just don’t want more housing in Davis which is really unfortunate because the city has a lower than 0.5% vacancy rate for rental properties.”
There is a new initiative in progress to build a research campus in Davis, set to be on the ballot in November 2020. Coined “Aggie Research Campus,” this campus will aim to bring technology companies and startups to the city, providing employment opportunities for graduates while also integrating affordable housing into the area. Building the campus would help curb the low vacancy rate for both housing and commercial space in Davis, which are at 0.4% and 3.2%, respectively.
The idea of Aggie Research Campus isn’t a new one — a project called the Mace Ranch Innovation Center was introduced to the community back in 2014, but it was put on hold indefinitely out of economic feasibility concerns, among other issues. One main backer of the project was Daniel Ramos, who is also heading movements to introduce Aggie Research Campus to the ballot. Aggie Research Campus will serve as the new-and-improved Mace Ranch Innovation Center project, a strategy that Ramco Enterprises Inc. detailed in a letter to the mayor this past summer 2019.
“We never lost faith in the Innovation Center and its ability to have a meaningful positive impact on Davis, and we now feel that the time is right to move forward,” the letter read. “What we have learned definitively through out earlier and more recent outreach efforts is that the inclusive campus model — a component of which is workforce housing — is essential for the success of a modern center.”
The research campus would also have lasting effects years after students graduate and move away from Davis. Ayesha Ishtiaq, a fourth-year international relations major, has been actively raising awareness for the initiative after she learned about the impacts it would have on her degree post-graduation.
“Even if you’re a graduating senior or somebody who will eventually move out of Davis and this is just a temporary place for you, it still has an impact because it has to do with UCD ratings,” Ishtiaq said. “Our post-graduation employment ratings are really low, […] so if I graduate from Davis now and then ten years later the ratings keep dropping down, when I apply places my degree will hold lesser value.”
Entrepreneurs in particular have been moving out of Davis to pursue their startups elsewhere because of the lack of support and resources. As an entrepreneur, Keller acknowledges the allure of the nearby Silicon Valley for entrepreneurs.
“Part of the problem is because we are so close to the global center of entrepreneurship that is the Silicon Valley, that it is easier for people to leak towards the valley than to stay here,” Keller said. “Silicon Valley is really good at software and electronics, but the things that UC Davis is really strong in, which is agriculture, sustainable technologies, renewable energy, that kind of venture capital does not work. Silicon Valley doesn’t get how to build that kind of stuff because the investment model for software is not the same.”
In order for Aggie Research Campus to be a success, both Ishtiaq and Keller said students need to be more involved with the political processes of the city.
“I’m an international student, so I technically shouldn’t have any affiliation with Davis,” Isthiaq said. “But once you’re living in a place and you know you’re going to be there for the next three, four years of your life, we need to start thinking of our surroundings and how better can we get ourselves involved in that and what can we do to leave an impact because these are the most formative years of your life.”
Both individuals encouraged students and community members to vote on this measure, one that could hold a significant impact on their undergraduate and postgraduate experiences.
“It is going to be very important for Davis students, faculty and staff to turn out to vote, because this is something that is critical to the research mission to the university,” Keller said. “It’s something that Davis is hurting for not having, and we need to make it happen.”
Written by: Lei Otsuka — firstname.lastname@example.org