About Discovery & Innovation
An artistic entrepreneurial community – that’s the vision that Mercer President William Underwood has for Macon, Georgia, for the future.
Mercer strives to be a key player in the city’s ongoing transformation, as it carries out innovation initiatives aimed at taking an already-vibrant community to even greater heights. The big-picture goal is for Macon to become “the kind of place and community that is really attractive to energetic, creative, entrepreneurial young people,” Underwood said.
Already, more young adults are being drawn to this city, many of them to attend Mercer. They are seeing the opportunities available in Macon and discovering a community where they can build their lives and stay actively engaged in revitalization efforts.
Macon’s College Hill Corridor, which began as a Mercer class project, grew into a nationally recognized neighborhood revitalization project. Local businesses, beautiful parks, historical architecture, the Medical Center Navicent Health and the Mercer campus all can be found within this 2-square-mile, pedestrian- and bike-friendly area near downtown Macon.
While the College Hill Corridor project has provided attractive spaces for young people, other Mercer-involved initiatives focus on the arts and the next big ideas in the business world.
The Mercer Innovation Center (MIC), launched in November 2015, helps aspiring entrepreneurs turn their entrepreneurial dreams into reality. Each year, the startup center selects fellows to receive prize packages that can include up to $20,000 in funding, office space, paid student interns, access to Mercer facilities and local investors, and coaching and mentoring. Businesses selected as companies-in-residence receive office space and additional resources.
“The Mercer Innovation Center is about fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and then supporting young entrepreneurs who will contribute to the vitality of this community through the new businesses they form,” Underwood said.
Z Beans Coffee, founded by 2018 Mercer graduate Shane Buerster, is a prime example of the business ventures that have grown out of the MIC. The company, a micro-lot importer of Ecuadorian coffee, now has storefronts on the Mercer campus as well as in downtown Macon, where it also has its own roasting operation. In addition to bringing in local dollars, Z Beans is helping create sustainable solutions for impoverished Ecuadorian coffee farmers through fair trade importation methods.
Elsewhere in downtown Macon, the McEachern Arts Center, which opened in January 2019 on Second Street, is the new home of the University’s art gallery and student studios, and the Mercer Music at Capricorn project will revive the historic Capricorn Sound Studios on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The renovated multi-purpose music space, set to open in December 2019, will house recording studios, rehearsal rooms, interpretive exhibits, offices and event space.
“The Capricorn Studio project is, at its core, not about the past but about the future and providing a place that supports and encourages young musicians to revive a music culture in Macon,” Underwood said.
In Mercer’s Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities, innovation means applying new approaches in order to solve real-world problems. The Center, based in the School of Medicine, is dedicated to developing innovative approaches to health care. Its mission is to make Georgia a national model for quality healthcare access in rural areas, and the first step toward that goal was the opening of the Mercer Medicine Plains clinic in summer 2018.
The University’s passion for improving lives goes beyond local and state borders. Faculty and students conduct in-depth research in state-of-the-art facilities on campus and then put their results to work in the field.
Mercer ranks in the second-highest level of doctoral research universities in the country, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. During the 2017-18 fiscal year, Mercer was awarded 84 external grants and $10.5 million in funding, not counting funding that went to the Mercer Engineering Research Center in Warner Robins. The University devoted $34.2 million that year to research and development expenditures, according to reports from the U.S. National Science Department.
Some of that research is given real-world application during Mercer On Mission (MOM) trips abroad. For example, the MOM program in Vietnam has fit more than 10,000 amputees with the patented prosthetic leg developed by biomedical engineering professor Dr. Ha Van Vo. In addition, chemistry professor Dr. Adam Keifer and environmental engineering professor Dr. Laura Lackey are working with students on a mercury air-capture system to solve a contamination problem in small-scale gold mining communities in Ecuador, Peru and beyond.
When it comes to innovation, Mercer has no plans to slow down anytime soon. The University’s 10-year strategic plan is filled with initiatives tied to the local and global communities.
“The culture (of innovation) that we’re expanding has been something that’s been a part of Mercer’s DNA for a long time, but I think in building on that spirit at Mercer, we’ve been able to take advantage of assets that Mercer didn’t always have,” Underwood said. “(Innovation) is central to what I envision a great university to be …. deploying the intellectual capital of the University to make the world a better place, beginning with the community in which we live.”