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Oregon Tech president Nagi Naganathan

FILE- Oregon Tech president Dr. Nagi Naganathan meets with the Herald and News editorial board in 2017.

Based on its name, the unfamiliar may have a hard time distinguishing what exactly the Oregon Institute of Technology is.

But thanks to a new, three-word designation officially approved last month by the state legislature, Oregon Tech President Nagi Naganathan said he’s hoping OIT — and the university’s future aspirations — can be more firmly and clearly established in the minds of the public.

“We don’t want to be one more mid-level, comprehensive university,” Naganathan said. “There is a niche. We can celebrate that niche and then build on it so we become relevant.”

By law, OIT is “Oregon’s Polytechnic University.” The bill containing the designation got just one vote against on its way to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk, where it was signed in June. In 2018, Eastern Oregon University similarly received legislative approval for its designation as “Oregon’s Rural University.”

“HB 2472 will help position Oregon Tech as an elite, hands-on, higher education institution of learning,” said E. Werner Reschke (R-Klamath Falls), one of the bill’s sponsors. “Prospective students will see the advantages of Oregon Tech’s unique approach to teaching by learning both in and out of the classroom, and how this pays dividends as they enter the workforce or continue on to graduate school.”

In a 2018 study commissioned by OIT, more than half of the 400 Oregonians surveyed said they weren’t sure whether the school was a public, private or for-profit institution. Additionally, 42% of those surveyed thought the university offered two-year or vocational degrees, 37% said bachelor’s degrees, 26% said master’s degrees, while 36% of the respondents just weren’t sure.

“People were guessing what kind of programming we offer,” Naganathan said.

Based on the name, many obviously guess that OIT offers engineering programs, Naganathan said. But less know that the school offers health sciences and management programs as well.

“That is typically where a polytechnic university or institution is — at the intersection of engineering and business very often,” Naganathan said. “In our case, we also do health sciences. So, this is more than a tagline. It is more than an identity. It is also what we should be in the 21st century.”

OIT aims to be an “industries university,” said Naganathan, who emphasized that by “industry” he means more than just general manufacturing enterprises.

“How do you build a seamless partnership?” Naganathan said. “I think that’s what our polytechnic universities should do with industry. When they think of innovation, we should be in the front of their brain lobes, so that they think about coming to the university and speaking with faculty and students.”

— Reporter Rick Childress can be reached at (541) 851-7301 or rchildress@heraldandnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickOChildress