Patricia Hagen, PhD, is T-REx’s new and first-ever Executive Director. She talks about where she’s come from and the opportunity she sees in T-REx, TEC, and St. Louis.
So, first off, about your education. I noticed you have degrees in public administration and policy analysis. So I was wondering—it makes sense that you would go on to direct research at SLU, get to know the grant world a little bit. But how does that education help you outside of the university?
After college I ended up working in risk management at SLU. I started to work full-time and go to school part-time to get my Master’s degree in public administration. One thing led to another at the university, and as I grew in my career I ended up, through opportunity as well as some design, working with faculty researchers on the academic side, in the research office at the university. So while I was building my career in research administration, and eventually [became] associate provost at the university, I was also working on my academic career. I finished my Master’s and then went on for the Ph.D.
What did your research end up being about?
Economic development. Actually, my dissertation was during the time when the new stadium was being proposed—the new football stadium—so I worked on analyses of economic development attached to stadium-building. I finished my Ph.D and was at St. Louis University for a total of about 20 years, and that was inclusive of all the things I’d done prior to the research.
One of the last projects I had at SLU was helping to develop the new biomedical research building there, at Chouteau and Grand. And that’s what’s called a BSL Level 4, Biosafety Level 4, research building. And that is a very complex structure that required a lot of attention in terms of health and safety…as well as [to the] spaces where the public would enter the building. We put together a funding proposal to the NIH to help fund the most complicated parts of the building, and we got several million dollars. So we got to work with the best engineers in the world on developing this research building. I loved that project. It was wonderful. And it was all of us together—great architects, great facilities folks, great researchers—everyone together was getting together to make this happen.
After that was over, I just loved it so much that I [started] looking for the next cool development thing I could do. So I decided to move on from SLU, as much as I loved it, to help develop a new Audubon Center in the St. Louis region. So that was another very different experience.
So now I can see the parallels, because I was wondering—SLU to T-REx seems like a normal step, but the Audubon Society struck me as sort of a strange [midway point]….What was the center about?
The National Audubon Society is based in New York, and they have a number of centers around the US where they do education and outreach …. This particular center was also a place for tourism. When I was hired, I had just a laptop and me, [but] we had a great relationship with the US Army Corps of Engineers. So we worked together, the Corps and I, to develop the Center, which is located right near the confluence of the two greatest rivers in North America, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. And that center opened in October of 2011, and already we’ve seen over 100,000 visitors, and it’s been a focal point for people who want to learn more about the natural resources of the great rivers that are here.
And then I became head of Audubon Missouri. We have another center in Joplin, MO, and that center was struggling a little bit because it had just experienced that devastating tornado …. So I was both Center Director and head of Audubon Missouri, and raising money for both. Because these centers are stand-alone. It was kind of like a small business … you have to make a business plan, get the funding in place, get a good trust relationship with our nature partners, and then build the building. It took a few years to get all of that going and then we opened in October 2011.
And then this (T-REx) came about, and I just thought wow, what a great challenge and opportunity. There are absolutely things I don’t know and have to learn, but I think I can use that fundraising and building development experience, and service experience, and try to create a great vision along with colleagues for what this can be.
So how did T-REx come up for you? Had you heard of it before?
I’d heard some things about it, and through some very good friends who are involved in downtown development I was alerted to the opportunity. And I thought yeah, sounds great!
You’re coming in at the middle of some huge change. Brand new building, 5th floor already under construction, and a community coordinator having left… so what do you hope to do at T-REx? What do you see as your responsibility and what do you hope to accomplish?
I think that this is a place where there is incredible opportunity for collaboration, and a vision for what can happen both downtown and regionally in terms of, especially, technology development. So there are great opportunities for stronger partnerships within the tech community and within the incubator and venture capital community. Right now, what I see is T-REx and TEC becoming a hub for these kinds of developments. And we’re flexible enough and young enough, and the culture here seems really great—we can just really do some fun and interesting things and build something really important here in St. Louis.
I was going to ask you about that. You’ve done so much locally and regionally, which seems to go beyond the regular hometown pride. So what do you see as really promising about St. Louis and Missouri in general? Why have you stuck around?
That’s a great question. Well, I love St. Louis. I go other places, and they’re wonderful, but my heart is really here. And I noticed that when I was at the university—well, we would hire faculty that would come from other cities and they’d think, “I’m only going to be here for a little while. This is a stepping stone to California or New York.” And for the most part, people come here and fall in love. It has something to do with the culture of our region and the opportunities here—cost is low here for people who are trying to start something—and I just think that the community is very welcoming. So the question of what keeps me here—it’s the opportunities here, and my own personal love of the region—this makes me think that I can make a difference for the future of the city.
What do you look forward to, downtown and in [greater] St. Louis, in the summer?
I love the outdoors. We like to go boating and kayaking, and we do a lot of hiking. I also like to get a little bit away during the summer and enjoy some of our natural resources as well.
Get out of the tech world! Back to the Audubon.
Exactly—best of both worlds.