Companies are thinking outside the box when investigating collaboration and engagement avenues with Georgia Tech, and the university’s outreach leaders are reevaluating their approach as well, realizing that the key is coming together around a set of agreements that not only enable a solid relationship, but customize to meet individual needs.
|Naresh Thadhani, Don McConnell, Norman Marsolan,
Leaders in industry collaboration and outreach gathered at the Renewable Bioproducts Institute in April to discuss what they call an evolution of engagement, including broadening direct interaction with students and research faculty on campus.
Norman Marsolan, executive director of RBI, encouraged his own member companies as well as others in the audience to engage more with research scientists, professional staff and graduate students.
“You can write your own plan of engagement,” he said. “This is a place where you can develop testing protocols, customize research to fit your specific needs and even engage with our graduate committees and work through consortiums.”
Marsolan said the graduate committees are particularly effective as they give company representatives the ability to get involved directly with research as it is being conducted and presented. They may contribute input and industry insight regarding the value of the research.
“It’s all about leveraging the knowledge that exits at Georgia Tech, at every level,” he said, “whether with individual companies or through consortiums.”
Don McConnell, vice president in Georgia Tech’s Office of Industry Collaboration, said the most import aspect of engagement is understanding what, as a company, you’d like to obtain and how to achieve that – it’s the end game.
“For example,” McConnell explained, “we had engaged a major chemical company. They had created new divisions and new products. Business operations had a six- to twelve-month time frame. But they were afraid they were going to miss the next big thing, right here on campus.”
McConnell said they wanted a group of pathfinders on campus to find new opportunities. They put them in a wet chemistry lab and began collaboration with chemists and engineers.
“Companies are always asking, ‘What’s next?’,” he added. “One thing they do know is that the rate of growth and the pace of finding this ‘next’ is much faster than any company can do on our own.”
Companies see locating to campus as a way to tap into the real time research developments happening every day, and companies like Boeing, for instance, are beginning to identify students as early as their sophomore year, nurturing the relationship that continues after graduation.
No better place illustrates this new direction than Tech square. McConnell called it a “neighborhood of companies” with a vast array of specialty products and services, from Home Depot to Southern Company and tech companies to innovation centers.
“Anything is possible these days,” he added. “The hardest part is deciding where is the most fruitful proposition and what your company can support. That’s why we’re here.”
The most impactful collaboration remains student-centric, according to Naresh Thadhani, Professor and Chair with Materials Science and Engineering, an area in which he singled out RBI as a model.
“RBI has the best industry engagement with students, significantly higher participation of students for longer periods of time, three to four years,” he said. “It’s about out-of-the-box thinking, new ideas, opportunities and innovations.”
The benefits at RBI are in both traditional areas of paper making, as well as looking at newer platforms that industry can pursue.
“We cannot ignore the traditional fields … we need expertise in those areas, but at the same time, we are always looking at how we can improve, like in sustainability issues and an expanded materials world. We all know we are running out of natural resources so there is a great emphasis on developing new materials that can be sustained. Forests provide our natural factories were we can move toward multi-functional.”
But these advancements for the 21st century can only be found by nurture the young minds found here at Georgia Tech —supporting them and establishing real relationships.
“If we do not build that together, we will lose those minds to other industries and sectors,” he said.