K-State 105 connects research and innovation to Kansas communities

A statewide movement

The work of K-State 105 is best told through stories that you can find across the state.

Consider the stories of new early childhood care and education centers in Leoti in Wichita County or Hillsboro in Marion County. In both communities, K-State Research and Extension agents have worked with Kansas State University researchers in the College of Health and Human Sciences to improve child care access.

Or look at Ogden in Riley County or St. John in Stafford County, where Net Positive Studio researchers in the College of Architecture, Planning & Design are working on affordable and sustainable housing.

Then there are stories of important economic development work, such as a K-State partnership with Fort Hays State University, NetWork Kansas and the Innovation Center to expand the Kansas Small Business Development Center in northwest Kansas.

Those are just three examples. The stories of K-State 105 spread across all 105 counties of Kansas, touching each corner and each region of the Sunflower State.

As the nation’s first operational land-grant university, K-State has always been in every Kansas county. But as a next-generation land-grant university, K-State is embracing innovative ways to serve and connect with Kansans.

That’s called K-State 105.

“Through K-State 105, we are fulfilling our land-grant promise of economic prosperity for all Kansans,” said Jessica Gnad, K-State 105 director. “We’re bringing people and partners together across the state because we are the university for Kansans.”

While K-State 105 is a pillar of the university’s Economic Prosperity Plan, it is also a key piece of the Next-Gen K-State strategic plan. K-State 105 leverages academic research and resources from all of the university’s colleges and campuses in partnership with corporations and small businesses to deliver economic prosperity in all 105 counties, delivering solutions direct to Kansans through the statewide K-State Research and Extension network.

It’s a mission that the Kansas Legislature has supported, too, when it provided $10 million in state funding for the K-State 105 initiative in fiscal years 2024 and 2025. The university is using that funding to collaborate with statewide partners, regional partners and project partners to address child care, affordable housing, health care and other elements that affect prosperity in Kansas.

“The challenges facing communities and businesses are complex,” said Tim Steffensmeier, K-State assistant vice president and director of engagement and outreach. “For instance, early childhood education, affordable quality housing and rural health care require the expertise, resources and creativity of our Kansas higher education colleagues and nonprofit and industry partners. Weaving together a network of resources and services is our best path forward.”

A sample of stories

The many stories of K-State 105 expand across academic disciplines and regions of the state. Learn more about some of the projects in different focus areas.

Affordable and sustainable housing

Students in the Net Positive Studio have worked on affordable and net-zero energy homes throughout the state.“I truly believe that affordable housing is the problem of our generation,” says Michael Gibson, associate professor of architecture. “Today’s housing crisis is affecting the livelihoods of everyday, middle class, working families.”

Gibson is the creator and leader of the Net Positive Studio, which is a research-based studio for students in the Master of Architecture program in the College of Architecture, Planning & Design. Students design affordable and net-zero energy homes that offset energy use through renewable energy generation.

The Net Positive Studio has collaborated with local community organizations to build affordable housing success across Kansas.

Gibson estimates that more than $3 million in grants and financing has been raised to build the projects in the last five years.

Child care collaborations

Child care provider Cheisa Myles helps children learn the alphabet.Bradford Wiles has a challenge: Go find a Kansas community where access to quality, affordable early childhood care and education is not an issue.

Wiles, associate professor and extension specialist in early childhood development in the College of Health and Human Sciences, sees a possible solution: Partner university researchers with K-State Research and Extension.

Wiles has worked with K-State Research and Extension agents on community needs assessments so that agents and community leaders can pursue federal, state and philanthropic support to help existing child care providers or build new early childhood care and education centers.

Success stories throughout Kansas prove that this approach works, such as Leoti’s Grow and Learn Childcare Center Inc. in Wichita County and the Hillsboro Community Child Care Center in Marion County. Other successful collaborative child care projects have happened in Kinsley and Lewis in Edwards County and Onaga in Pottawatomie County.

But Wiles is clear: He doesn’t do the work alone.

“It is the agents who advance this work on the ground in their communities,” Wiles said. “At the end of the day, applied research is supposed to make a difference in people’s lives. A land-grant university is supposed to make a difference in people’s lives. I daresay we’re doing it.”

Technology for economic development

Jacob Picolet, TDI senior engineer, provides automation support to help companies meet demand while coping with labor shortagesFor more than 30 years, the K-State Technology Development Institute, or TDI, in the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering has supported economic development in Kansas.

TDI, a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration University Center, helps businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers with product design and development, machining and prototyping as well as business and intellectual support services.

“We believe that you should be able to be globally competitive wherever you choose to live in Kansas,” said Jeff Tucker, TDI executive director. “Our K-State land-grant commitment to equal access and to helping people where they are — in their physical location and in their journey — is really important. That’s in our DNA.”

Some of TDI’s recent success stories highlight entrepreneurship and research collaborations.

“Everything that K-State 105 embodies is what we do here,” said Bret Lanz, TDI commercialization director. “From a technology development standpoint to grow the economic balance within the state, I think it’s a great opportunity to try and make those connections.”

Building partnerships

The ambitious work of K-State 105 requires a network of statewide and regional partners to advance the economic prosperity of Kansas. These partners include other higher education institutions, state agencies, nonprofits and businesses.

“Few know the needs of the people of Kansas and their communities better than our extension agents,” said Gregg Hadley, director for extension with K-State Research and Extension. “With offices in each county, they live in the same communities as the people they serve. Because of this, they are able to assist business owners, local coalitions and community leaders in finding the needed expertise to allow their communities and local economies to flourish.”

Statewide partner NetWork Kansas is collaborating with K-State to advance community vitality, increase small business startups, expand existing businesses and increase direct investment in Kansas counties. NetWork Kansas has a network of 71 entrepreneurial communities across the state.

Regional partners, called Learn Together community partnerships, are working with K-State to address urban and rural challenges across the state. These partners include the Innovation Center, which provides economic and entrepreneurial assistance to businesses in 26 northwest Kansas counties, as well as GO Topeka, which is creating economic success in Shawnee County.

An early example of K-State 105 partnership success is expanding the Kansas Small Business Development Center, which operates as a network of eight regional economic development and business consulting centers that serve all 105 counties in the state. The partnership involves K-State, Fort Hays State University, NetWork Kansas and the Innovation Center.

“Simply put, K-State 105 is driving connections — connections to university research and to partners in economic development across the state. Together, we are poised to make a difference for Kansans,” said Jessica Gnad, K-State 105 director.

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