PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo - DECEMBER 2004 - VOLUME 14, NUMBER 4
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Research: Delivering the Goods

By John Gilligan


State universities are often asked to demonstrate their relevance to economic development. The bottom-line question from state legislators is "How many new jobs have you created for us lately?" Engineering schools have plenty to say in response.

Engineering schools offer many well-educated and trained graduates and that attracts industry to nearby locations. What works on the education side also works for businesses. Many of our students participate directly in industry as co-ops, interns, or part-time employees, greatly enhancing the applied aspects of their education. Commonly, up to half of all graduates have this kind of experience, and some schools require undergraduate engineering students to participate in cooperative education. These students perform many tasks that allow full-time employees to increase productivity. Perhaps just as important is the chance to try out potential employees before they graduate.

Equally important to industry is sponsored faculty research, which often has direct relevance to new-product development. As much as 20 to 25 percent of engineering faculty research is sponsored directly by industry—usually leading to new products and new jobs for the sponsoring company. Colleges of engineering like to point out that for every $1 million in industry-sponsored research, one patented invention will result. When the patent rights are licensed to businesses, new products and jobs are the result.

On the consulting side, engineering faculty members frequently bring their cutting-edge expertise to industry in the areas of product improvement, manufacturing efficiency, and productivity enhancement. Engineering colleges provide direct services to industry through extension operations, manufacturing extension partnerships, and training on safety and environmental issues, ISO 9000, GMP, Six-Sigma, and lean manufacturing. All these services can improve industrial competitiveness, carrying the state's economic development along with it. As an example, the Industrial Extension Service (IES) at North Carolina State has a budget of about $8 million—$2 million from state appropriations and the rest from contracts and fees. As measured in an independent federal survey, IES provided $85 million in direct annual gain to the state in 2002-03. This was accomplished by helping 367 companies become more productive and expand their markets.

In addition to creating new products, inventions by engineering faculty members frequently become the basis of spin-off companies—the major source of job creation for the future. Engineers are inventing new entrepreneurial ventures based on software, electronic devices, medical devices, manufacturing processes, chemical processes, and new materials and coatings. Three of the largest spin-offs from North Carolina State—SAS Inc. (software and statistical analysis), Cree Inc. (solid state devices), and Embrex Inc. (in-shell immunization of chicks)—have generated over 11,000 jobs in North Carolina.

Every university with an engineering school should have a good economic development story to tell. The contribution of university engineers and scientists ought to be near the top of the list of economic drivers that state legislators seek to secure.

John Gilligan is chair of ASEE's Engineering Research Council and vice chancellor for research and graduate studies at North Carolina State University.


Engineering For Everyone - By Bethany Halford
Model Behavior - By Pierre Home-Douglas
Answering the Call - By Robert Gardner
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Tech View - By Mary Kathleen Flynn
Really Cricket: More British universities are offering degrees in sports engineering. - By Thomas K. Grose
On Campus: Rising to the Top - By Robert Gardner
Research: Delivering the Goods - By John Gilligan
Faculty's Finest: Kevin Kit Parker - By Thomas K. Grose
LAST WORD: Technological Paternalism - By Julia M. Williams


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