In October, University of Missouri officials unfurled an enormous gold banner outside of Jesse Hall, the university’s main administrative building. The banner, honoring professor emeritus George Smith for winning the Nobel Prize, obscured a two-story swath of the old brick structure, but its point was clear: MU would not be shy in promoting Smith’s historic achievement.
“When I came here last year, one of the things that I noticed was that we tend to be humble in telling the great things about this institution,” MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright said. “If it’s true, it’s not bragging. It’s about making sure the message gets out there.”
Since the award was announced, MU has highlighted Smith extensively on social media and featured the award in various promotional materials, part of an unprecedented marketing effort surrounding the prize. The university hopes that calling attention to Smith’s Nobel Prize will improve student and faculty recruitment, increase research funding and boost economic development.
Cartwright hopes by vigorously marketing the prestigious award, the university will be able to convey an environment where students and faculty can reach their goals.
“We want people to understand that the environment here is one where you’re going to be successful and that we’re going to help you to achieve whatever is your ultimate potential,” Cartwright said.
If the university can communicate this message and leverage the Nobel Prize to attract faculty, it could bolster MU’s reputation as a research institution, according to MU spokesperson Christian Basi.
“That goes a long way when you have scientists who are interested or who are being recruited here,” Basi said. “And that helps us to elevate the prestige of the university, attract high-quality individuals to teach and work here.”
Recruiters and tour guides have been directed to share the story of Smith’s Nobel Prize to prospective students and faculty, Basi said.
‘A significant point of pride’
Other universities that, like MU, are public research institutions located in the Midwest have likewise embraced the opportunity presented by their first Nobel Prize winners.
In 2011, Dan Schechtman, a part-time faculty member at Iowa State, won the chemistry award.
Iowa State spokesperson Annette Hacker said that the university promoted the award with brochures, banners, national magazine ads and a television commercial that aired during Iowa State athletics competitions.
“This is a significant point of pride for the university because he is the first Iowa State faculty member to win a Nobel Prize,” Hacker said. “The most important thing we continue to do is to retell his story, and that’s one of sheer perseverance.”
Ohio University celebrated its first Nobel Prize in 2009, when alumnus Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the award for chemistry.
“As Ohio University’s sole Nobel Prize-winning alumnus, his achievement is frequently held up as an example of the heights Ohio University students can reach,” Ohio University spokesperson Jim Sabin said.
Neither Iowa State or Ohio noticed any significant changes in funding or recruitment that could be directly attributed to the Nobel, officials said. Nevertheless, both universities believe that the award bolstered their reputation and elevated their prestige.
George Smith spent his entire 40-year career at MU and has credited the university for fostering an environment where he could complete his research unimpeded. Basi said this is an important message to advertise.
“Having that information from Dr. Smith about the fact that it was Mizzou’s own environment that helped him have that success, we utilized those messages in our marketing materials,” Basi said. “(We are using) tools that we already have, but that helped us state our case for why Mizzou’s research enterprise is so strong.”
University officials hope that positioning MU as a top research institution will lead to more funding for continued experiments. Mark McIntosh, the University of Missouri System’s vice chancellor of research, believes the award will help the university attract federal grants in the future.
“The prize does highlight the high caliber of researchers we have at the MU campus,” McIntosh said. “The culture of building the intellectual and technical resources needed to foster interdisciplinary research such as Dr. Smith’s will help us to continue submitting and ultimately being awarded competitive federal grants.”
Cartwright also noted that companies want to be around great research institutions. The chancellor hopes that leveraging the Nobel Prize to highlight the university’s commitment to quality research will attract companies to Columbia and benefit overall economic development.
“Ten years from now, I’d like to know that we built an economic ecosystem where companies see this as a destination point,” Cartwright said. “For me, it’s about positioning the university so people understand the value of being near and interacting with this university.”
This marketing effort is not temporary. Basi said MU will continue to promote Smith’s Nobel Prize for many years to come.
“It absolutely will continue to be a part of our materials,” Basi said. “That information is crucial to prospective students, graduate students, faculty members who want to be among the best and also be in a very collaborative and conducive environment. That’s something that I don’t see us shying away from in any shape or form.”