UCR’s OASIS Innovation Hub Turns Research into Action

Published: 02/13/2023

Rodolfo Torres, UCR vice chancellor of Research and Economic Development. Courtesy Stan Lim/University of California, Riverside

Economic development and outreach are typically not the first things that come to mind in top-tier research universities, but an ambitious initiative led by the University of California, Riverside, sets out to change that.

“We are moving beyond traditional research and scholarly work to engage with the community and contribute to economic development as one of only 20 R1 Hispanic-serving universities in the country,” said Rodolfo Torres, UCR vice chancellor of Research and Economic Development.

The Opportunities to Advance Sustainability, Innovation, and Social Inclusion, or OASIS, is a partnership between public and private stakeholders to drive regional economic development through applied research, innovation, entrepreneurship, and workforce development around sustainability, clean technology, and social inclusion.

“The combination of UCR’s impressive student success and diversity, the great research already taking place on campus, and opportunities for economic growth in the region puts us in a unique position to have a more prominent and clear impact on the Inland Empire and beyond,” Torres said.

Cutting-edge plant research at UCR. Courtesy University of California, Riverside

The first phase of OASIS, which consists of physical infrastructure and programmatic activities, is establishing a clean technology park anchoring diverse stakeholders interested in clean energy, sustainable transportation, agriculture, community health, and natural resources. The initiative received state and federal funding to secure an 8-acre site along University Avenue, building upon the City of Riverside’s planned innovation corridor between downtown and the UCR campus.  

Torres said the clean technology park is not a typical development for the university. 

“The park will anchor research laboratories, professional educational training, offices, and community spaces,” he said.

The site leverages the synergy and presence of the new California Air Resources Board laboratory by co-locating the Center for Environment Research & Technology (CE-CERT), UCR Extension, a startup incubator, accelerator space, and facilities for partner companies. Through the attraction of companies, the park will provide internships and high-paying job opportunities to draw a broad range of diverse research and business talent.

“OASIS partners will create a skilled workforce to fulfill the constantly changing industry needs caused by technological and regulatory changes prioritizing underserved populations,” Torres said.

A UCR researcher visits a wind farm. Courtesy University of California, Riverside

In terms of programs, OASIS is supported by six pillars. These include agriculture technology and food security, community health and health disparity, human development, natural resource management, renewable energy and fuels, and sustainable transportation & infrastructure. The six pillars weave across common project goals of sustainability, innovation, and social inclusion, coupled with UCR’s mission in education and workforce development. To foster innovation, the University is allocating $1.7 million in seed funding open to all UCR faculty and researchers, including $200,000 to each pillar and 20 smaller awards of $25,000 to be distributed across all six. The goal is to help UCR faculty expand upon areas under the OASIS umbrella and increase their competitiveness for external funding.

Torres said he is grateful the City of Riverside recognizes the transformative economic potential of OASIS. 

“This level of economic development can only happen when everybody is on board,” Torres said. “We’re very fortunate to have a shared vision and support from the City in both the planning and execution phases of OASIS.”  

Meanwhile, City officials lauded the initiative. 

“OASIS offers the opportunity to dramatically improve the quality of life for thousands of people,” said Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson, City of Riverside. “The OASIS ecosystem of industry, government, community and academic partners will be an unstoppable force to drive change in our region’s areas of greatest need.”

For more about OASIS, go to https://oasis.ucr.edu.