Wim Wiewel, President, Portland State //
What inspires you?
I’m a city boy. I’ve always focused on how to make cities economically strong, culturally vibrant, and socially just. Urban universities are in a great position to contribute to these goals, and I’ve been fortunate to work on this for the past 38 years.
How do you foresee higher education further developing and driving city success?
People’s need for higher education continues to increase as technology develops and the world becomes ever more competitive. Therefore, both the education and the research provided by colleges and universities will be ever more important. Urban universities that partner with their cities—business, government, and nonprofits—will make the greatest contributions, and will thrive through partnerships.
What is your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
Regardless of which sector you work in, you have to know how to create and manage partnerships. It’s through complementarity, identifying shared needs and joint resources, that you can have the biggest impact. That means you have to spend lots of time building trust, learning to understand the needs and priorities of others, as well as your own organization’s strengths and weaknesses.
In your opinion, what are the top 3 opportunities facing your city today?
First of all, we continue to build on decades of environmental awareness to be a leader in dealing with climate change. Portland State University, city government, and many others have climate action plans that give us a realistic path to carbon neutrality. Cities and states have to be the leaders on this incredibly important issue.
Second, over the last 15 years, Portland has rapidly become more diverse; it used to be one of the whitest cities in the U.S. With our progressive ethos, there’s a great willingness to reconsider how we deal with this change. Along with several other large organizations, PSU has adopted an “equity lens” in our strategic plan, committing ourselves to consider equity issues in all decisions we make. So we have a great opportunity to set a new standard in this area.
Third, Portland is home to a great “maker” economy that continually generates entrepreneurial success. We still have many more opportunities to tie students and faculty from all local higher education institutions into this innovation eco-system.
What are one or two projects you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
I’m stepping down from the presidency this summer, which will give me an even greater opportunity as a faculty member to focus on the things I most care about (instead of having to worry about budgets, politics, etc.!) I intend to do fundraising for our Institute for Sustainable Solutions, and work on urban and international projects with our Institute for Metropolitan Studies and our Center for Public Service. There’s so much to be done, and I look forward to continue my work to “Let Knowledge Serve the City,” as PSU’s motto says.
Could you tell us something about yourself that most of your colleagues don’t know about you?
Even though I’m very busy, I make time to read fiction; I read about 40 novels each year. When I visit a new city, I love reading mysteries and other fiction set there; I find that they provide much more insight into a place than guidebooks do.