Jim Barker: Higher education can drive job development

Originally published in The Greenville News

Today more than ever, higher education needs to work closely with government and private industry to ensure that our graduates are well prepared for the immediate job market and for their future roles as leaders of our companies and our communities.

Clemson University was pleased to host a field hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development at CU-ICAR on Tuesday.

Clemson was specifically established to support economic development. Thomas Green Clemson, who left his home and fortune to the state to create the institution that bears his name, understood that the surest path to prosperity was education.

It is appropriate that the hearing was held at CU-ICAR — given its mission and the collaboration that has occurred among the university, federal, state and local government and the private sector, which has resulted in an economic transformation for our state.

Three critical ingredients in CU-ICAR’s success were: (1) a research university that was willing to listen and respond to industry needs; (2) government investment, and (3) a physical campus.

Each ingredient was essential. CU-ICAR evolved from conversations between Clemson and BMW about what the state’s automotive cluster needed in order to remain competitive. They said they needed a new kind of engineer — one who understood how all of the mechanical, electrical and computer systems in a modern automobile work together. Clemson faculty listened, responded and created a new curriculum focused on systems integration.

Financial resources were provided through state legislative initiatives that funded endowed chairs, research infrastructure and innovation centers. Often, those funds required a private-sector match — the ultimate measure of accountability.

City and county government helped fund infrastructure and support services, and federal funds are helping build the new Center for Emerging Technologies.

The third critical ingredient was 250 acres — enough land to accommodate large companies, small start-ups and landing parties alongside academic programs and state-of-the-art research and testing equipment, all on a campus designed to foster collaboration.

What distinguishes Clemson’s automotive engineering program is the blend of rigorous academics, daily interaction with industry leaders, and a structured, hands-on learning opportunity we call Deep Orange — which transforms the Campbell Graduate Engineering Center into an original automotive equipment manufacturer and supplier.

Students, faculty and industry partners actually produce a new vehicle prototype each year, which gives students experience in vehicle design, development and production and prepares them to be the leadership automotive work force of the future.

CU-ICAR’s results speak for themselves: 19 corporate partners, 30 research partners, 500 jobs created and another 1,700 announced, $230 million in public and private investment, America’s first doctoral program in automotive engineering, and a 100 percent employment rate for its graduates.

The CU-ICAR model works, and it’s one we are following in developing other innovation campuses.

The Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston will soon house a unique wind-turbine testing facility — funded by a $45 million U.S. Department of Energy grant — which could make South Carolina the hub of the wind energy industry. IMO Group, a German manufacturer of wind-turbine components, will locate a facility, with 190 jobs, in Charleston partly because of Clemson’s testing capability.

Like CU-ICAR, the campus will focus on industry collaboration. Executives from 90 percent of the world’s turbine manufacturers serve on its advisory boards.

The Clemson University Advanced Materials Center in Anderson County boasts one of the nation’s most advanced electron microscope facilities and a cyber-infrastructure that places Clemson in the top five among U.S. academic institutions for supercomputing.

This campus concentrates on small businesses that move technology and innovations into the marketplace, often based on licensing of Clemson research and intellectual properties, which has generated more than $28 million in revenues and created 15 start-up companies over the past decade.

Tetramer Technologies, for example, was founded in 2001 as a faculty start-up company and is now a tier-one supplier to General Motors.

Each of these research campuses is as unique as the regions and economic clusters it serves. But each is anchored in academics, because the greatest contribution we make to economic development is a well-prepared Clemson graduate.

That’s why the cornerstone of our new strategic plan — the 2020 Road Map — is student engagement. We want to give every undergraduate and graduate student the kind of relevant, hands-on, problem-solving experience that Deep Orange provides at CU-ICAR.

These programs, often involving interaction with industry, will give Clemson students the tools to become leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and global citizens — in short, to be the 21st century workforce.

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