New Office of Corporate Engagement aimed at bolstering Marquette’s business partnerships

Higher Education


In spring 2018, Marquette University and Wintrust Financial Corp. inked a 10-year partnership that checked several boxes for both organizations.

With its $12 million commitment, Wintrust – the Rosemont, Illinois-based parent of Town Bank – secured its position as the university’s exclusive commercial and retail bank, expanded branding opportunities at the Al McGuire Center and Fiserv Forum, supported scholarships and the College of Business Administration’s commercial banking program, provided seed funding for a small business revolving loan fund, and financed low-cost loans for businesses in the neighborhoods around campus.

Underpinning the multi-faceted deal, both institutions said, were their aligned values and missions.


“Marquette is a major institution in Milwaukee, and Marquette’s mission goes beyond just educating college students, and we’re growing in Milwaukee so the opportunity to work with Marquette on some initiatives that are consistent with our mission and growth goals was attractive to us,” said Jay Mack, president and chief executive officer of Hartland-based Town Bank.

Marquette recently launched a new office with the goal of forming more and stronger partnerships with area companies, like Wintrust.

The Office of Corporate Engagement and Partnerships, which was first announced in early 2018 during university president Michael Lovell’s annual address, officially opened this January. The office’s focus is on forming corporate sponsorships related to research, technology transfer, talent development, philanthropy, and contracts and service partnerships.

“The Office of Corporate Engagement is charged with formalizing, enhancing and streamlining the ways in which Marquette works with corporate partners, ultimately increasing the number of opportunities the university has to work with forward-looking organizations with shared values and strategic priorities that align with Marquette,” Lovell said.

Leading the effort is Maura Donovan, who recently joined Marquette in the newly created role of vice president for corporate engagement. Donovan previously was executive director of economic development at the University of Minnesota, a program she built from its inception.

Her background has spanned positions in both the higher education sphere and the corporate world, including her roles as vice president of therapy research and development, and vice president of life sciences R&D at medical device giant Medtronic Inc.

It’s prepared her for a role in which she stands at the intersection of academia and for-profits, with the goal of bridging the two sectors.

“I think part of what I can bring is that duality, the bilingualism,” she said.

Donovan said she wants the university to build multi-dimensional relationships with area companies, an approach known as “holistic engagement.”

“There is more than just one point of connection that a university can achieve with a particular company,” Donovan said. “Whether that’s focusing on the talent needs a company has – that might be where a lot of the conversations start – but as you go deeper into that relationship, you realize they may have interest in research, technology transfer and product development synergies.”

Donovan said the new office will build on Marquette’s foundation of corporate partnerships, which have largely been formed among its various colleges up to this point. It’s also prompted some internal shuffling, including Carmel Ruffolo, formerly associate vice president for research and innovation, who has transferred to the Office of Corporate Engagement and Partnerships as its associate vice president.

Centralizing the corporate engagement functions into one office, Donovan said, will create a single access point for companies to get connected to the university.

One of the larger recent corporate partnerships with the university is the new Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute, a $40 million initiative of Marquette, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the Milwaukee-based life insurance company. Northwestern Mutual made a $15 million commitment over five years to support an endowed professorship at each university, research projects, new faculty, expanded curriculum, K-12 STEM initiatives and pre-college programming. Marquette and UWM have each committed more than $12 million to data science education and research at their universities.

Under the partnership, data scientists from Northwestern Mutual will work with the universities on teaching opportunities, mentoring and internship programs, and help the universities align their curriculum to current industry needs.

From a talent development standpoint, Donovan said she envisions growing experiential learning opportunities to help prepare students for careers, while also connecting companies to talent coming out of the university.

While businesses provide valuable information regarding workforce needs and trends, which in turn influences curricula, Donovan said the new office will be able to help facilitate conversations with companies regarding their long-term needs.

“This is sometimes a tricky conversation to catalyze because we’re all used to looking at our immediate needs, but one of the strengths of academic institutions is we can look further out,” she said.  n

Sign up for the BizTimes email newsletter

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display