Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > U of M’s Santa Ono

U of M’s Santa Ono

May 18, 2023 Detroit Regional Chamber Content Author

Karen Dybis | Metro Detroit Freelance Writer

We Must Collaborate to ‘Sharpen Our Impact and Create New Opportunities’

If you say Santa Ono has a vision for the University of Michigan, he’s willing to groan along with the joke — he was a vision researcher who studied eye disease and the immune system before becoming the 15th president of the university in October 2022.

For Ono, having clarity about what he wants to accomplish in Ann Arbor is paramount. Next is a sense of humor as illustrated by his willingness to do student selfies and banter on social media. But what also lights up this longtime academic is the way he hopes to set standards that lifts the university’s collective purpose.

“The nature of my role as president gives me a bird’s-eye view of the institution. The research, learning and healing that goes on at the University of Michigan, day in and day out, is truly extraordinary,” Ono said.

This is Ono’s third stint as a university president; previously he served in the same role at the University of British Columbia and University of Cincinnati. Ono is U of M’s first Asian and first minority to lead the nationally recognized educational institution.

He said his first months have flown by, but he’s made it a priority to slow down and connect with people.

“My most significant lesson since arriving in Ann Arbor is that our community is a passionate and engaged group of people who are committed to our mission of education, research, leadership, and service. People here hold themselves and each other to a high standard of excellence, and that mindset has fostered an institution that has thrived for generations,” Ono said.

“Another way we’re enhancing our engagement with not only the business community, but also the city of Detroit and its residents, is through our planned University of Michigan Center for Innovation. We envision UMCI being a state-of-the-art hub of education and innovation that engages business, entrepreneurial and residential communities.” – Santa J. Ono, President, University of Michigan

Visioning Process to Chart U of M’s Next Decade

Ono’s first order of business is Vision 2034, a strategic process that seeks to chart U of M’s path for the next decade. He said they are in the midst of gathering input across three campuses, including Michigan Medicine, through town halls and smaller sessions. This is more than surface-layer thinking, according to Ono. Allowing real discussion is key to his “and” approach instead of “either or.”

“As that visioning process continues, we must continue to address a number of clear university priorities. These include critically important topics such as our efforts in sustainability and addressing the climate crisis; promoting a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus community; advancing our robust research efforts; and supporting the wellness of our faculty, staff, and students,” Ono said.

Striving Toward Carbon Neutrality Across Campuses

Sustainability balanced with economic growth is also key. Ono says the university is striving toward carbon neutrality on its three campuses and health system. It seeks to procure 100% of its purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Also, it wants to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from direct campus sources by 2040.

“Meaningful climate action begins at home, and so we encourage other institutions and businesses across the state to consider what more they could do to address this crisis. It will take all of us,” Ono said.

Engaging Business, Entrepreneurs, and Communities Through Innovation

Finding ways to collaborate with Michigan’s mobility and private sectors are key to the university’s connection to the state’s business community but also to helping its students invest in living and working here.

“Each year, we spin out 15–30 startup companies based on university research discoveries. Most of these companies stay in the region, creating new jobs and contributing to the diversification of our economy,” Ono said.