Scott Vargo
Scott Vargo is the Hennepin-University Partnership's new Director

We are excited to announce Scott Vargo as the new Hennepin-University Partnership Director. Scott is taking over for the recently retired HUP Director Kathie Doty, HUP’s founding director who led the partnership for over 15 years and grew it into a nationally recognized model for cross-sector collaboration. With new leadership HUP will continue to coordinate partnerships that reinforce the mission and goals of both the University of Minnesota and Hennepin County. 

Scott most recently worked at Hennepin County’s Center of Innovation and Excellence. He is committed to supporting evidence-based policy by connecting academia with real-world challenges facing local government. Scott worked for HUP while attending the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Upon graduation he led a 2-year initiative to develop a robust talent-pipeline between Hennepin County and the University.

In welcoming Scott to his new role as HUP Director, we asked him about what brought him to HUP, his priorities and how he feels about being at CURA.

CURA: You were a HUP graduate student, you stayed connected to HUP while you were at Hennepin County and you are now the HUP Director. What draws you to this partnership? 

Scott: Hennepin County is a very innovative partner. They are willing to think outside the box when serving residents. It is uncommon for a government of any size to be open to working so closely with an external partner that has such a different culture. The fact that HUP has had such tangible impacts–on both the County and the University–is really exciting for me, because it shows the true potential of cross-sector partnership. 

A very recent and ongoing example of this is the National Science Foundation grant that the County and the University received to study the local 911 and N11 system, with the goal of improving responsiveness to residents’ needs. For the County and the University to agree to work together on something so impactful demonstrates a leadership commitment to truly support applied partnerships.

And for the University, these partnerships provide a unique forum for both faculty and staff to apply their research and learning in a real-world setting. While working on my public policy degree at the University, I became fascinated by the idea of translating the cutting-edge work being done in academia to an applied setting where it has the potential to benefit our communities. 

CURA: You mention the stability of the partnership. You are taking over for Kathie Doty who was the founding director of HUP. What’s the transition going to be like?

Scott: I learned a lot from Kathie both through her mentorship and by watching how she was able to identify opportunities for partnership and see them through to fruition. She made a partnership that could have been largely symbolic into something truly impactful.

Kathie left a strong core of what HUP does–relationship building, events, mixers, webinars and lending our support to issues as they come up–that’s our bread and butter and I intend to build and improve upon that foundation.

CURA: What are some of your first priorities as the HUP Director?

Scott: The number one priority that guides everything else is identifying the needs of Hennepin County, identifying appropriate University resources, and then connecting the two. As cut-and-dry as that may sound, there are a lot of different tactics that support this priority and we can be very creative. 

Given that, one new priority is the build-out of a research agenda on the County side. This is a county-led effort and HUP will be supporting our County partners in this work. The goal is to create a list of research topics of interest to the County that can be used to spur future connections with the University. 

Another new priority is to develop a Hennepin County community of learners. We envision this as an open group for anyone interested in utilizing academic expertise in their professional work, be it educational opportunities, research and evaluation, or sharing best-practices. The group will be agnostic to department or organizational hierarchy with the message being that anyone can tap into the University to help advance their work.

Lastly, and this is more of a guiding principle than a priority, is a focus on aligning with Hennepin County’s disparity reduction effort or, in the University’s language, advancing equity. While HUP definitely supports these efforts already, we will be doing an even more intentional job catalyzing disparity reduction partnerships and communicating the impacts of this work.

CURA: How does it feel to have your University home at CURA? 

Scott: Not a lot of people know this, but I actually worked at CURA when I was an undergraduate at Macalester College studying urban geography. It was part of the Kris Nelson Community-Based Research program and the project examined the walkability of neighborhoods around the Metro Transit Green Line. (Note: here is a link to Scott’s research project The Green Line Walkability Survey: Routes to Rails in the Central Corridor.) I was 21 and I didn’t fully understand what CURA did, or was, but I was attracted to its focus on the community. It’s great to come full circle and now be a director of a program housed at CURA. 

I’m really excited to learn more about other CURA programs and explore how HUP can expand and support the linkages between CURA and Hennepin County.

Please join us in welcoming Scott Vargo to the Hennepin-University Partnership and CURA.