Universities across the United States are investing millions of dollars in innovation centers. These centers are noteworthy for their modern designs and sophisticated equipment. We’ve previously explored how some centers focus on engineering and entrepreneurship, while others focus on blending engineering with other disciplines.

Industry Partnerships to Create Innovation

Innovation centers focus on partnering with industry as well. Companies right now have a desperate need for engineering talent, due to the widening skills gap. These innovation centers create opportunities for industry to embed in these facilities and work in tandem with engineering schools. In return, students learn what companies are looking for while solving real-world business challenges.

Robin Hammond, director of the Fulton School of Engineering Career Center at Arizona State University (ASU), notes that ASU thinks about what companies may need, including the need for varied skills in today’s workplace, and how this can positively impact the engineering education process.

“The goal is to create t-shaped engineers by making available a multitude of experiential opportunities…. Engineers are in high demand, but not just any engineer. It’s your best engineers that industry wants when looking at the talent pipeline,” Hammond says.

Industry Partnerships: University of Pennsylvania’s Pennovation Center at Pennovation Works

The 69,000 square footPennovation Center was completed in 2016. This LEED Gold building, designed by New York-based HWKN and KSS Architects, is a business incubator designed to foster an atmosphere where innovators of all types collaborate and create.

The building includes common creative spaces, wet and dry labs, a café, and a centrally located “Grand Staircase” with bleacher seating, intended to foster serendipitous encounters.

In addition to offering office space for businesses and startups, the Pennovation Center houses the Penn Engineering Research and Collaboration Hub (PERCH). The PERCH space became a new home base for several multi-disciplinary projects developed by students and faculty from the General Robotics Automation Sensing and Perception Lab. One tool immediately put into use: the indoor infrared motion capture system.

The Pennovation Center anchors the University of Pennsylvania’s 23-acre Pennovation Works district, a part of the Lower Schuylkill Innovation District. In this area, technological and innovative companies can receive significant state and local tax benefits by putting down roots.

Laurie Actman, COO of the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI), said, “We want to create the platform for partnership between Penn, the private sector and entrepreneurs that will grow the ecosystem here. Projects like this help to reframe the perception of what’s going on in Philly. Spaces like this are the glue and landing pad for collaboration.”

Industry Partnerships: Arizona State University’s Manufacturing Research and Innovation Hub and Smart City Cloud Innovation Center

In 2018, Arizona State University was named the most innovative school in the United States for the fourth year in a row by U.S. News and World Report. One reason for that is the 15,000 square foot Manufacturing Research and Innovation Hub, the largest additive manufacturing research facility in the Southwest.

Located on ASU’s Polytechnic campus, the Hub is the result of a partnership between the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Honeywell Aerospace, Concept Laser Inc., Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies Inc. (PADT), and Stratasys Ltd. The equipment in the Hub includes a ShopBot 3D wood router, Epilog Laser engraver, and 3D printers.

Ann McKenna, faculty director of the Polytechnic campus, notes, “[T]he Hub is a place where, if you’re thinking about innovative product design, innovative materials, this is a place where you can realize that innovation…. Having that equipment, that cutting-edge, state-of-the-art equipment, here on campus enables our students to be prepared for the workforce and gives them a competitive advantage.”

Arizona State University was recently chosen to lead a $1 million directed project opportunity to advance additive manufacturing post-processing techniques with America Makes, a national accelerator for additive manufacturing. This project evolved from the collaboration between ASU’s engineering schools and Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies, Inc.

ASU and Amazon Web Services’ new Smart City Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) recently opened as well. This facility will identify best-in-class solutions for smart city challenges by providing resources and engaging smart city designers, faculty, and students in large-scale initiatives like TenAcross, which aims to solve issues concerning the Interstate 10 corridor.

Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president for ASU Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer, said, “The ASU Smart City CIC will be a one-of-a kind innovation center in Arizona with limitless possibilities for digitally transforming our state with data, AI and machine learning.”

What Innovation Requires

For businesses, being able to partner and collaborate with engineering students is a golden opportunity. With these university partnerships in innovation centers, companies can evaluate the students they work with, even as the students reap valuable educational rewards by grappling with real-world problems.

Robin Hammond, director of ASU’s Fulton School of Engineering Career Center, notes that the hiring process for engineers is now more like a courtship over a period of time to determine if there is a good fit, rather than interviews at a career fair. At the same time, the need for engineers in all kinds of jobs is very real.

John Murray, president and CEO of Concept Laser Inc., says, “We are just scouring the Earth trying to find talented engineers, technicians and materials science people who can really bring a lot of vision and help this technology expand. Education is an absolute cornerstone to this entire industry and its ability to expand, and we’re excited to be a part of it.”

Considering how the word “innovation” has become such a focal point for engineering education, we will definitely circle back to this topic in the future. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

In our next post, we’ll look at how the IoT revolution is affecting engineering education.