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Kathleen Matt: the Visionary Behind UD’s STAR Campus

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As Kathleen Matt sits in her office at the University of Delaware with |her colorful display of Wizard of Oz characters—Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion—she marvels that she is dean of the College of Health Sciences.

“It’s never been my goal to be a department chair, to be a dean, be a provost—be a president,” Matt says. “More of my interest has been to have an impact on health care.”

And while she has done that, her career path inadvertently led her back to her native state—and UD’s newest campus. As Dorothy said so poignantly in the movie, “There’s no place like home.”

The connections started early. Matt’s parents first lived on South College Avenue, the same street that is home to McDowell Hall, the headquarters for the College of Health Sciences. They raised Matt and her three sisters on Chrysler Avenue in Newark. While growing up, the girls bought peaches from the farm on campus, rode bikes to get to their language classes in the labs during the summer and performed in fashion shows at Townsend Hall.

Matt’s father, Walter, taught science in Newark for 30 years, and, ultimately, Matt and her siblings earned degrees from UD.

Fast forward to 2008, when Matt, who received her Ph.D. in endocrine physiology from the University of Washington, Seattle, was enjoying 20 years of career success. At the time, she was the associate vice president for clinical partnerships and research infrastructure at Arizona State University. She also served as a liaison between the university and various community partners in facilitating clinical collaboration and innovation. 

Then, as fate would have it, Matt went to a lecture by UD President Patrick T. Harker about biomedical partnerships, a field in which she had been making great strides at ASU. 

“At the end of the event, we had a valet, and my car was pulled up—and it turns out (Harker) was coming down the steps at the same time,” she says. “I had these folders in my car that had all the pieces, so I shared them with him.”

And the rest, as they say, is campus history. 

Upon walking through the doors of the new Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) building, visitors are greeted with a grand, open space, featuring industrial rafters from the remaining pieces of the Chrysler site, a mural of the cars that once were built there and a winding, 270-foot-long hallway flooded with natural light. Research centers are on the right side, clinics on the left. 

“We designed this so that the people going to the clinic could look in and see the research that’s going on, so they would understand that research is not something that’s going on in some lofty tower,” Matt says.

Everything in the 103,000-square-foot building is set up in core spaces. The idea is to encourage the different disciplines to come together. 

Phase II on the 272-acre property, managed by Delle Donne & Associates, will include additional leased real estate for private, health care-related businesses such as dentists, pharmacists, eye care specialists and others. Once construction on that 70,000-square-foot, south-end space is complete (the goal is by the end of summer) and filled with businesses, work will begin on Phase III, which includes a 10-story tower.

Other occupants of the first building include the BADER Consortium, which focuses on the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers and veterans; the Delaware Rehabilitation Institute, which brings together clinicians, scientists, engineers and policy-makers; and the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance (Christiana Care, Jefferson, Nemours and UD). 

It also houses the Nurse Managed Health Center and the Delaware Physical Therapy Clinic, both of which are open to the public, and GoBabyGo, a project aimed at increasing cognitive, social and emotional development through movement in infants and kids with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. 

Jim Tevebaugh, founder and president of the architecture firm Tevebaugh Associates, worked side by side with Matt throughout the construction process.

“Kathy Matt, in my book, is one of the most sensitive and imaginative clients I’ve ever worked with. I think she’s a visionary,” he says, adding, on second thought, “Actually, she’s not really a client in my mind. She’s the stakeholder. She’s not paying the bills. She is the user that is going to do the test drive.” 

Tevebaugh refers to the campus as a game changer and “the most visionary thing the University of Delaware has ever done. It’s the hood ornament on the main drag into Newark.”

He is already confident of the complex’s success. “I’m not the least bit worried about it not working,” he says. “Health care is growing. You’re not going to recognize that place in 10 years.”

Back in Matt’s office on the STAR campus, above her desk, she has a mock-up drawing of her vision: A hotel and conference center. Residential and retail space. A fitness and wellness center. A Jefferson campus for health education. A data center. A train station.

Her commitment is evident. The initial worries she had about leaving the trust of her community partners in Arizona and starting a new position are long gone. “I underestimated how much it mattered to be from Delaware.” 

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