Activating research partnerships

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As the Penn State College of Engineering passes the halfway point of its current strategic plan, creating sustainable and expansive institutional partnerships with industry remains a critical component to ensuring the college successfully accomplishes its research objectives. In an effort to build and foster these connections, the college held its inaugural industry engagement workshop, industryXchange, Wednesday, May 24, at the Hintz Family Alumni Center on the University Park campus. Attendees included 19 representatives from 16 companies, 90 engineering faculty members and 10 leaders from across the University.

Organized by Priya Baboo, director of industry, innovation, and development in the college, the event kicked off with welcome remarks by Penn State’s Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey and Associate Vice President for Research and Director of the Office of Industrial Partnerships Jeff Fortin. Amr Elnashai, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of the College of Engineering, served as the keynote speaker and provided an update about the current state of industry engagement in the college, as well as an overview of the college's four research thrusts that align with the University's research goals.

"Engaging in joint research with industry is not only intellectually rewarding, but also positively impacts our quality of life," said Elnashai. "This event embodies our commitment to conduct research in a societal context."

industryXchange activities included moderated panel discussions, faculty research breakout sessions, and a plenary panel, composed of industry representatives who have long-standing relationships with the college. They discussed how they began their partnerships; challenges they faced along the way and how they solved those challenges; and next steps going forward. They also explained the many benefits of industry-university partnerships.

"Working with Penn State engineering faculty on challenging problems enables Corning's scientists and engineers to benefit from the perspective and experience of the faculty when identifying potential solutions," said Dan Vaughn, manager of external technology collaborations and intellectual assets at Corning. "Additionally, the students who work with Corning and the faculty on such projects benefit from exposure to problems that are important to industry, and they gain experience that make them better prospective employees."

George Lesieutre, associate dean for research in the college, delivered the closing remarks before the event wrapped up with a reception and student poster session, which highlighted current research by 30 Penn State engineering graduate students.

"One thing I hear a lot from industry is that they also want to engage with our students," said Baboo. "The poster session gave company representatives the opportunity to meet students who are working on research they are interested in and learn about other cutting-edge research going on in the college."

In addition to promoting research at the college level, the event created awareness about University-wide resources that may prove valuable to industry moving forward, including Penn State's industry-friendly intellectual property policies and the innovation gateway, which is designed to connect Penn State researchers to the technical challenges and needs of industry.

All in all, Baboo said she believes the inaugural industryXchange was a positive experience for faculty and industry. Darryl Farber, an assistant professor in Penn State's School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs, agreed.

"It was a great opportunity to present our work to industry and receive feedback to help scope the resilient infrastructure systems problem space," he said. "It was useful to listen to the industry representatives describe the problems they face and discuss with them ways to address those problems."

Baboo said she is working diligently on next steps, such as following-up with industry to get feedback about the program and helping faculty facilitate potential new industry partnerships.

"We accomplished a lot in one day and based on the discussions I was engaged in, I would say our first industryXchange was a success," she said. "We want to keep the momentum going."

industryXchange was sponsored by the College of Engineering and Penn State's Office of Industrial Partnerships.

For more information about the industryXchange and/or partnering with Penn State's College of Engineering, contact Baboo at pzb104@engr.psu.edu.

—Stefanie Tomlinson