Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire is partnering with The College of New Jersey to examine ways for higher education institutions around the country to develop more innovative collaborations with industries.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has more than 100 STEM-field research collaborations with regional and national industries that allow Blugolds to analyze real-world work problems and observe practical applications of their research, according to Dr. Michael Carney, UW-Eau Claire’s assistant chancellor for strategic partnerships and program development.
“Many students are more energized and engaged in these types of projects because they have a clearer line of sight on the potential application of their work,” Carney says. “It’s also important for the university to be seen as contributing to the public good — to show that the Wisconsin Idea is still alive and well.”
UW-Eau Claire is going to build on its established collaborative efforts by partnering with The College of New Jersey to examine ways for higher education institutions around the country to develop more innovative collaborations with industries.
Each of the institutions received a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant through the Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC) program. The three-year project’s goal is to identify best practices for establishing, implementing and sustaining partnerships to advance scientific and technological innovation.
A goal of the project is to develop models of engagement and partnership development that can be used by all universities, Carney says. Researchers will identify obstacles, barriers and ways to overcome those barriers, and establish best practices that lead to a sustainable plan to grow innovative partnerships.
UW-Eau Claire has a strategic partnership with Mayo Clinic Health System where students, faculty and staff have worked on more than 100 collaborative research projects with Mayo Clinic physicians and scientists. Carney says the university’s goal is to establish more collaborations with industries that could eventually become strategic partnerships.
The NSF grant application required universities to collaborate on the project, and UW-Eau Claire and TCNJ chose to be partners because of their similarities as institutions, including their national prominence in undergraduate research.
“Our institutions are similar so we have similar challenges to building partnerships, we have differences which will help us learn from each other and we are geographically separated so we are not in competition,” says co-principal investigator Dr. Alex Smith, professor of mathematics and chair of the computer science department.
UW-Eau Claire has the capacity for more industry collaborations, but Smith says “use-inspired research” is more challenging and time-consuming than traditional academic scholarship because faculty must build and maintain collaborations.
Grant principal investigator Dr. Doug Dunham, director of the Materials Science and Engineering Center and chair of the materials science and biomedical engineering department, says that university-business partnerships are beneficial to many groups.
“Students benefit by being able to work on projects important to industry that help them understand the field but also can lead to internships and future employment,” Dunham says. “Collaborative projects with industry give faculty the opportunity to stay current with trends in industry and bring back examples to the classroom. These collaborations can also lead to funding for faculty and students.”
UW-Eau Claire will take inventory of its present partnerships and identify new industry partner prospects, looking for ways to make the partnership process easier, Dunham says. Project leaders plan to bring local and regional industries to campus for an event to outline ways they could partner with students and faculty in multiple disciplines.
“Although the focus of the grant is to enhance partnerships to increase innovative capacity in the STEM fields, the lessons learned and the infrastructure/processes developed will enable partnerships in disciplines across the university,” Dunham says.
UW-Eau Claire faculty in chemistry, physics, geology, environmental public health, biology, geography and mathematics will work as partnership fellows on the project.