Walton Family Gives UA $194.7M to Start Research Institute

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The University of Arkansas announced Tuesday that it will establish the Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research (I3R) with a $194.7 million grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

The university said this grant is one of the largest private donations a university has received for research and economic development. It will also count toward the $1.25 billion goal the university set for its Campaign Arkansas fundraising drive.

Of the $194.7 million, $89 million will go toward construction of the I3R Research Facility, which will be on the UA campus.

Another $88 million will be spent on endowed chairs and faculty positions, faculty startup matching funds, support staff matching funds, industry liaison and support, operation funding, director recruiting support and more for the I3R.

In addition, $14 million and $3.5 million are the designated amounts for an auxiliary campus in Bentonville and entrepreneurship education, respectively. The Bentonville campus is subject to final approval by the UA Board and accrediting entitities. 

The university said it will hire as many as 20 professors for the institute.

“This grant will have an enormous impact not only on the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region and state, but on our campus as well,” Charles Robinson, the university’s vice chancellor for student and academic affairs, said in a news release. “This change will be accomplished through deep engagement of university faculty and students in research, discovery and innovation, entrepreneurship education and commercialization of research.”

Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz said, “The difference to the northwest Arkansas economy we expect to realize in the next 20 to 30 years includes a significant increase in the scale and scope of the university’s research profile and reputation. We will realize an increase in federal research dollars expended locally, which aids the overall economy of the region and state, and is a short-term multiplier.

“The longer-term results will be seen through the attraction of a diverse group of people for whom an academic and entrepreneurial ecosystem is appealing, and who will add intellectual and creative talent to Arkansas,” he continued. “Increases in applied research, commercialization and resulting startups will also impact everything from regional quality of life to health care.”

The university said I3R will concentrate on five “overlapping clusters of innovation”:

  • Data science;
  • Food and technology: Food systems and the future of food;
  • Materials science and engineering;
  • Bioscience and bioengineering research in metabolism; and
  • Integrative systems neuroscience.

“Arkansas has long been known for its entrepreneurial spirit and as a place where businesses thrive,” said Steuart Walton, chairman of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation Board and a grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton. “This grant will support the University of Arkansas as it seeks to drive innovation and transform entrepreneurship and research to commercialization for industries nationwide.”

Two years ago, the Northwest Arkansas Council and the UA set a goal to drastically increase the funding for the university’s research and development. 

“The enhancement of the University of Arkansas’ focus on research to commercialization and entrepreneurship education will have a lasting impact on the state, its businesses and economy,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. “The funding is a clear position of confidence in the University of Arkansas and will strengthen their position as a leading public research university.”

Steinmetz said all “transformational” solutions begin with questions.

“How does the University of Arkansas distinguish itself as a great research university among a sea of great and distinguished universities?” he said. “How do we do that in a way that drives economic development and creates clear avenues for industry involvement? How do we ultimately change the culture of collaboration in such a way that it advances the research and commercialization profile and production of the university? And how do we change the way we do science on campus?

“The creation of an interdisciplinary and wholly integrative research institute was the answer.”