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Interdisciplinary efforts in graduate education
The theme of the next issue of Professional Education News will be interdisciplinary efforts in graduate professional education. Do you know of a graduate project or program at UD that gets extraordinary results by crossing disciplinary lines? Do you know of an outstanding interdisciplinary effort to serve our professional graduate students? Please send your ideas for feature
articles or other comments on the newsletter to:
John Sawyer, email@example.com
Associate Provost for Professional Education
Office of Graduate and Professional Education
UD's Center for Composite Materials: making partnerships work
When Jack Gillespie first heard University of Delaware President Patrick Harker talk about knowledge-based partnerships as an essential part of the Path to
Prominence, he felt right at home.
Gillespie is director of UD's Center for Composite Materials (CCM), where researchers have been partnering with industry for more than three decades. In this position, he has had a front row seat to the benefits that are reaped when universities leverage their knowledge-based assets in partnership with industry, government and other academic institutions through innovation and entrepreneurship.
UD's Center for Composite Materials (CCM) has been designated a national Center of Excellence since 1985. [Photo by Ambre Alexander]
CCM was founded at UD in 1974, and just four years later the center's consortium, "Application of Composite Materials to Industrial Products," was established. Gillespie notes that this was an innovative approach at a time when most universities were conducting only government-funded research.
"Interest in composites was heating up at the time," Gillespie says, "but companies were frustrated with academic researchers' lack of understanding about what was important in the 'real' world."
The Center's current leadership. which includes associate director Suresh Advani and three assistant directors. has ensured the sustainability of this pioneering idea by continuously identifying new markets and mechanisms for collaboration. In the 33 years since the consortium was started, more than 200 companies have provided over $20 million in gift support to the center.
"We have used these funds to establish state-of-the-art facilities as well as to support the work of our talented faculty, staff and students," says Gillespie, who is also Donald C. Phillips Professor. "However, industry has always been far more to us than just a source of funding to augment government grants."
Diverse partnerships, productive outcomes
He points out that CCM's partnerships have followed a number of paths, including input to research direction, shared instrumentation, student internships, visiting industrial researchers, software development and use, industrial advisory board involvement, consulting, co-authorship of journal papers, technology transfer, and attendance at workshops, symposia and research reviews.
"Our sponsors have benefited from our decades of composites research and 100-plus ongoing projects," Gillespie says. "When we launched the consortium in 1978, many companies were looking to invest in the next generation of scientists and engineers, and gifts were used to fund undergraduate and graduate student research to meet this need. Industry also saw our alumni as highly qualified future employees, and our students benefited from the input and guidance of industrial leaders and researchers."
"Since then," he adds, "that relationship has been enhanced via our strong commitment to technology transfer with member companies of all sizes. Along the way, we have incubated new businesses by providing our students with an entrepreneurial environment and our industrial partners with a broad array of research expertise and facilities."
Opportunities for innovation
Although the center's industrial and government programs initially ran in parallel, over the years they have come to complement each other. CCM has been a Center of Excellence funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense for the past 25 years, a status that has spillover benefits for industrial partners.
"We have routinely forged university industry-government partnerships for the benefit of our consortium members," Gillespie says. "As we carry out fundamental research for our public-sector sponsors, we become involved with their private-sector contractors, enabling us to work together to transition technology into valuable applications."
One particularly successful strategy CCM has adopted is teaming with companies. many led by alumni to win grants through the federal government's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. These grants support efforts to transfer technology, accelerate commercialization and create new jobs.
At any point in time, CCM has close to a dozen ongoing projects with small businesses, and Gillespie feels strongly that this is one of the most effective means to transition and commercialize technology.
"We see industry's problems as our research opportunities," he says, "and we view an investment in the Center as an investment not only in research but also in the next generation of scientists and engineers who will contribute to the continued development of this increasingly robust, diverse and valuable technology.
"CCM started out addressing problems for the aerospace and automotive industries almost 35 years ago. Today, those applications are still important, but we've added new markets to the list. For example, national security, health care and energy, where lightweight materials are essential for success in the world market." For more information, visit the Center for Composite Materials online or contact Gillespie at 302-831-8702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.