Frank Huband The Business of Engineering

A common thread runs through our feature stories this month, as each highlights a different aspect of the relationship between universities and business. In "The New Boomtowns," our cover story, Warren Cohen discusses the broader impact of academic contributions to society. Traditional views by local politicians hold that the value of universities in a community are primarily the employment of locals in administrative and support positions and the purchases by students and faculty members at local stores. But for many communities and regions the impact is far more beneficial. The story highlights several regions that have been dramatically enhanced by the presence of universities with strong technology programs. Of course we still do not know what it takes to germinate an environment that leads to the sort of regional successes discussed. Obviously, having technologically strong universities is not the only factor. But just as obviously, a region's chances of developing a blossoming high-tech climate is greatly enhanced by the presence of such institutions.

Sometimes, the presence of one extraordinary person is enough to stimulate business by transforming academic knowledge into economic value. "Collaborating with the Enemy" is the story of a Scottish engineering professor who, with an entrepreneurial partner, used his technical expertise to develop an innovative commercial vehicle tracking system.

Technology in this new century will have a revolutionary impact on human health and longevity. It will also continue having a tremendous economic impact. In "21st Century Gold Rush," Joannie Fischer writes about the history and prospects of the ongoing mapping and analysis of human DNA—and its potential for making billions of dollars for savvy investors. It is too soon to predict what the long-term financial and social impacts will be, as DNA analysis is still in its infancy. But in a generation or two, historians will no doubt assess the impact of this work as of equal or greater than that of the information technology revolution of the last generation. And there is no doubt that engineering faculty members will play a substantial role in developing the tools and other technologies that will be needed.

I hope that our stories—this month and always—benefit the engineering education community by generating thought about how the changing external environment in our society might change the goals we have as educators in the preparation of our students. I would be most interested to hear your views on this.

Frank Huband
Executive Director and Publisher