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Driving Innovation at the Urban Research University

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Driving Innovation at the Urban Research University – with Harlan Sands

How can an urban research university serve as an anchor for its community—attracting employers and giving talent a reason to stay in the city after graduation? Harlan Sands believes that the key is to serve as a hub of innovation, aligning skills taught with the needs of a modern economy.

Harlan is the newly appointed President of Cleveland State University. A highly regarded leader in higher education, Harlan has 30-plus years of experience at urban research universities. Harlan has served as a thought leader, academic administrator, business process changemaker, professor and student advocate. Prior to his career in higher ed, he served as a public defender in the city of Miami, litigating more than 50 trials in state and county court. Harlan holds a BS in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania, an MBA from George Washington University, and a JD from George Mason.

Today, Harlan joins me to walk us through the diverse career path that led to his current role as President of Cleveland State. I ask him about the value of an urban research institution as an anchor to its city, and he describes his vision for CSU as a driver of innovation. Harlan shares the previous accomplishments he is most proud of, from supporting faculty in conducting vital research to engaging students and staff in a university’s mission. Listen in for Harlan’s insight on the role of student housing in creating a living and learning community on campus and learn how mentors can help you in the pursuit of lifelong learning!

Topics Covered

  • The diverse career path that led Harlan to his new role with CSU
  • Harlan’s background in both academia and administration
  • The importance of a research institution as an anchor to its city
  • How a university can serve to draw people to the community
  • Harlan’s vision for Cleveland State as a driver of innovation
  • Attracting employers by aligning skill sets taught with market needs
  • Why 80% of CSU grads stay in the city of Cleveland
  • Harlan’s aim to engage students and staff in the university’s mission
  • How Harlan supports faculty in conducting research
  • Harlan’s take on students as clients or customers
  • The role of student housing in promoting retention and progression
  • Why student success should be the starting point for student housing
  • How student housing contributes to a living and learning community
  • Harlan’s advice around the pursuit of lifelong learning
  • The idea of MBWA (Management By Walking Around)

Connect with President Harlan Sands

Connect with Leigh Anne


Leigh Anne is the Director of Creative and Brand Marketing at COCM. In her role, she supports the development and implementation of the annual corporate marketing plan. She is responsible for overall brand strategy, content marketing, social media, video production, COCM’s website, marketing materials design and production, as well as serving as our liaison for COCM's sponsorships.