Marian McCord, 2022 Outstanding Women in Business recipient
Marian is the Senior Vice Provost for Research, Economic Engagement and Outreach at UNH
McCord arrived at UNH just as the Covid-19 pandemic was emerging as a serious threat across New Hampshire and was appointed to lead the UNH Covid Response Task Force, which directs public health efforts responsible for protecting 15,000 students, 1,100 faculty members and 2,800 staff across three campuses.
Additionally, McCord leads a research enterprise that set a historic record for competitive funding in FY21, closing the year with more than $260 million awarded to UNH in new grants and contracts — double its FY20 record. A report by the George W. Bush Institute and the Opus Faveo Innovation Development consulting firm ranked UNH the nation’s sixth most productive mid-sized university at converting research funding into direct economic impact. McCord has also led UNH to new levels of success in research support and impact. As a Carnegie R1-rated research university, UNH is in the top tier of higher education institutions for research activity — deepening and expanding research impact is essential to improving UNH’s overarching strategic goal to be among the top 25 public universities in the nation.
In August 2021, McCord was selected to serve on the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Committee on the Future of the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). McCord is one of 19 national experts, selected from more than 70 nominations, to guide NSF EPSCoR’s visioning activity by engaging with external stakeholders to better understand the impacts of its investment strategies and to identify new opportunities for increased success.
You have spearheaded UNH’s research support and economic impact over the past couple of years. How has your work paved the way for future business leaders?
Our unit — the Office of Research, Economic Engagement and Outreach — supports future business leaders in many ways. UNHInnovation trains students, staff and faculty in innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurship. Our research development office helps students, post-doctoral scholars, and faculty hone their skills in obtaining external grant funding. Our office of outreach and engagement provides a suite of professional development programs that are available both within UNH and to our constituents in NH and beyond, and connects UNH with K-12 students and teachers and business and economic development organizations across the state.
Because you primarily work with students and young professionals in an educational setting, what advice do you normally share to drive innovation and inspire future female leaders?
I find that people tend to be most innovative when they are doing something that they love to do, so I encourage students and young professionals to take the opportunity to explore areas that they are passionate about, rather than just doing what they think they “should” be doing. I have worked with lots of high-achieving students, and have found one of the things that you need to stress again and again is that failure is an acceptable, if not necessary, part of innovation.
Women in tech face pervasive challenges and have traditionally received less support, both financial and societal, for entrepreneurial endeavors. I advise female students and professionals that they will have to be tenacious and persistent, speak up for themselves, and find good mentors and allies who can help counter some of the challenges they will face on the path to success. There is no doubt that the path for women is more difficult, especially in the tech arena.
Are there any challenges to being a woman in your field?
Yes, there are challenges. Women in higher ed tend to hold the least senior administrative positions and are paid lower than men. Because women are underrepresented in tenured and full professorships, less of them make it to the highest levels of administration.
What are the benefits of a formalized mentor program, and should other companies consider one?
A well-run formalized mentor program would make sure that mentoring is provided equitably and reliably. Yes, I think companies should consider these programs. However, I will say that often formal mentoring does not meet employees’ needs, and that employees should seek to grow a mentoring network both inside and outside of their organization.
Any current initiatives you’re excited about?
I’m excited about everything I’m working on. Our Covid lab and the partnerships we have developed with NH DHHS to address Covid testing and identify variants has been very successful, and we hope to continue to grow our partnerships in the area of environmental surveillance and genomics.
We are working on creating a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to professional development across our campuses. We also hope to grow our Collaborative Research Excellence (CoRE) initiative, a program that supports interdisciplinary and collaborative research efforts, to include a new focus on developing shared research facilities.