Provost Duerk

The making of an innovator

By Lorena Lopez

The making of an innovator

By Lorena Lopez
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jeffrey Duerk has been awarded the Lifetime Service Award from Case School of Engineering at Case Western Reserve University for his 30 years of leadership at the institution.
Before making his way to the sunny Miami shores, Provost Jeffrey Duerk spent nearly three decades inspiring innovation at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Duerk earned his doctorate in biomedical engineering from Case Western in 1987 and, after a brief stint working in industry, joined the faculty and later become dean of the Case School of Engineering. Duerk recently was honored with the 2018 Lifetime Service Award from the Case Alumni Association for his many contributions to his alma mater.

Returning to Case Western for this year’s homecoming, Duerk was greeted at the award ceremony by old friends and colleagues who gathered at the site of one of his greatest accomplishments, the Sears think[box], where he received his award.  think[b]ox is a 49,000-square-foot, seven-floor innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem open to all.

“The think[box] is a great example of asking ‘what if’—and it’s not just the physical space, it’s the intellectual and cultural space. That’s what makes it unique,” Duerk said, while crediting his mentors and the team that developed the vision and execution.

A public center for innovation and entrepreneurship that bridges the gap between new ideas and real-world impact, the think[box] is not unlike the bridges Duerk is building at the University of Miami. Among his many initiatives, Duerk oversees the University of Miami Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge (U-LINK) that supports teams of scholars from multiple disciplines in collaborative, problem-based inquiry to address the complex challenges of society. This year, he and others will be launching a similar program to advance excellence in interdisciplinary education.

This commitment to innovation, invention, and discovery has been the driving force behind Duerk’s numerous achievements. He holds some 40 patents (with most licensed to industry), numerous fellowships, and was even inducted into the National Academy of Inventors—all during his tenure at Case Western. And all of these grand ideas now serve as the building blocks for the great things Duerk plans to achieve while at UM.

Duerk recently summed up the significance of the innovative new ventures—the Project Alexandria alliance with entrepreneurial heavyweight Magic Leap, the Frost Institutes for Science and Engineering that herald a new era of STEM research and education, the 3D Printing Center of Excellence Collaborative Laboratory, and others—that have launched at the U. “We’re at the dawn of an interdisciplinary renaissance,” he said, “and the best is truly yet to come.”  

Part of Duerk’s current focus now is on creating other comparable institutes as well as educational initiatives that serve learners at every stage of their life.

While at Case Western, Duerk kept a button on the doorframe of his office to remind him every day of his focus. That same button is displayed on his doorframe at UM. “It’s not about me,” the button reads.  Duerk noted, “Here, it’s certainly all about the U and the impact we can all have for others and with others. Our mission statement of ‘We transform lives’ sums it up.”

“Those messages and statements mean a lot to me,” he said.