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II Genesis of the Engineering Research Centers
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The Concept and Goals of the Engineering Research Centers NAM P. SUH INTRODUCTION As the papers by Dr. Keyworth, Dr. Schmitt, and Mr. Bloch make clear, the concept behind the Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) is both exciting and promising. The response the Centers have received from the university and industrial communities has been overwhelming, and very gratifying. While many people made them possible, Dr. Low's role emphasizes the fact that it sometimes takes just one man with vision and imagination to influence the course of history. To review the concept and goals of the Centers I will supplement the National Academy of Engineering report on the ERCs* and the NSF program announcement by highlighting several points. It is appropriate to ask whether or not our mode of operation in the ERC program ought to be different now that we have gone through the initial phase. Having established six Centers, we are in a much better position to examine what we have done, and also to see whether or not the actions we have taken are consistent with the original concept. It should be said at the outset that the final decisions in selecting the Centers were very difficult because there were so many good proposals. We used one overall criterion in arriving at our decisions: excellence. The NSF's ERC proposal review panel agreed to use excellence as the major criterion in view of the ambitious goals set for the ERC program, and in view of the enormous hope and expectations that everyone has for the ERCs. *Guidelines for Engineering Research Centers (1983). 37
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38 THE CONCEPTS AND GOALS OF ERCS All of us in the engineering community can be proud of the fact that the review panel experienced no political pressure in arriving at these decisions. In the final analysis, the goals of the ERC program simply reflect the goals of the National Science Foundation as established by Congress in the NSF Act of 1950. According to the act the goals of the NSF are to promote the progress of science and engineering; to ensure the nation's health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense. In the sense of these goals the ERCs reflect our determination to strengthen engineering research and education in view of the rapidly changing international environment and the need to increase our produc- tivity. The goals established for the ERCs are very difficult for any institution or any nation to achieve because they require new kinds of thinking, new modes of operation, and the establishment of new kinds of relationships among our institutions. But if any organization can help the nation ac- complish these goals, I believe the ERCs can, because in them we have the right people, the right institutional ingredients, and all the elements required to get the job done. CHANGES IN THE NSF ENGINEERING DIRECTORATE Recently we have instituted some changes at the National Science Foun- dation in the field of engineering. We believe these changes are necessary to meet national needs, the aspirations of the engineering community, and new requirements that may be imposed on the engineering community. Since these changes have been made to balance and complement the ERC program, a few words about the NSF's renewed commitment to excellence in engineering education and research are in order before going on to discuss the ERC program. The NSF reorganized the engineering directorate to deal with the fol . . owing Issues: · research support · quality of engineering manpower · facilities and equipment · effective institutional resource utilization · academic infrastructure for emerging and critical technologies. We have created new programs to support research that is designed to establish a science base in fields that do not yet have such a base. We have created programs to assist universities in establishing the academic infrastructure needed to generate knowledge and trained people in many of the emerging areas in which the NSF has not had much previous activity. In addition, we have initiated ways of supporting high-risk, high-return
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NAM P. SUH 39 projects even when peer review gives a mixed rating to the proposed work. These programs reinforce the traditional NSF support for engineering science and research, which will significantly affect the intellectual and technology bases of the nation in years to come. The NSF is considering a number of other new initiatives to improve the quality of engineering manpower, basic engineering systems research, and the utilization of institutional resources such as the federal laboratories. It has a variety of programs that augment and strengthen the ERC program, and which in turn are strengthened by the ERCs. The ERC program is one of many that support university research. We are ready and we are eager to work with the university community in strengthening the research infrastructure . RATIONALE FOR THE ERCS One of the first questions that people asked me when I came to the NSF in the fall of 1984 was why we need the ERCs. Good answers have been given to that question in other papers in this volume, but I want to stress that the ERC program is a result of the realization that our engi- neering schools are becoming increasingly engineering-science oriented, with greater and greater emphasis on analysis of narrowly focused topics. While analysis in engineering science is an important facet of engineering, it is clear that we have neglected synthesis-oriented skills such as design, optimization of engineering systems, and system integration. Many leaders in industry and academe complain that experimental tech- niques and hands-on experience are not sufficiently emphasized in our engineering schools. The way we practice engineering in industry is very different from the way we teach our students. The ERCs are needed to nurture new ideas, encourage innovation, produce better-educated people, and promote stronger interaction among our institutions, including those in industry and government. If we do not take these tasks seriously, then 10 to 20 years from now in many of our industrial sectors we may be in a very different position vis-a-vis other countries. The ERCs are clearly a mechanism by which we can correct some of the weaknesses of our institutions today. SELECTION FACTORS Given these reasons for establishing the ERCs, it may be asked what specific attributes and qualifications the NSF looks for in selecting ERCs. I will just cite some of the important factors. One important element obviously is the quality of the idea underlying the ERC proposal. Is there a new and promising idea that can strengthen
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40 THE CONCEPTS AND GOALS OF ERCS engineering research and education? Is there a potential for major break- throughs, in either an intellectual or a technological sense? The overall research idea is the most important component of a Center proposal. We are looking for ideas that can produce many breakthroughs, both in ac- ademe and industry. Without such an idea at the core, a Center proposal is unlikely to succeed in being funded. I have visited a large number of universities, and often I have been asked about the formula for success in getting ERC funding. There is no such formula. If an ERC is working on good ideas, the university will have no trouble getting industrial support; students will be challenged and interested; and universities will be able to forge the research team needed to make timely progress. Good ideas will elicit excitement. The next element we look for in selecting ERCs is research topics. Is the problem large enough to enable a cross-disciplinary research team to work on it together and make a major contribution that cannot be made otherwise? Or does the proposal contain a collection of unrelated random topics? Is the topic relevant to meeting national needs? Are the research goals achievable? Another element we have been looking for is the competence of the Center director and key participants. Can they achieve the stated goals of the NSF? Do they have the right mix of people? Are they capable? Do they have the needed expertise? The fourth element in our thinking is industrial support. What is the likelihood that industry will support the type of endeavor proposed? How much support is there from industry? These questions are asked in full recognition of the fact that industrial support will vary from field to field. We have to use different measures, depending on the area of concentration. A related factor, also important, is the type of interaction with industry. Is meaningful interaction possible? We believe that industry's participation in the research program must be substantial and real; the ERC must benefit from industrial input in all phases of its operations. Industrial participation should open up new avenues of research as well as opportunities to create new technologies. It is important that research ideas flow in two directions, from the ERCs to industry and from industry to the Centers. We believe that this "two-way street" quality is a vital element of an ERC. Another element that we have been very concerned about is the edu- cational aspect of the proposed work. Since one aim of the ERC program is to strengthen both undergraduate and graduate education, we have to ask: How are they going to involve undergraduate students? At many universities undergraduate students traditionally have not been heavily involved in research programs. If we are going to involve undergraduate students in ERCs, in what ways is it to be done, and how are they going
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NAM P. SUH 41 to contribute to ERC activities? How is the experience likely to enhance their professional growth? Still another element very much on our minds is the institutional en- vironment. Is the proposed ERC really supported by the university? In what form and to what degree? Can the Center overcome interdepartmental barriers and actually conduct cross-disciplinary research? Are there in- centive systems in place? To whom does the Center director report? Does he or she report to one department head, or to the dean? Can he or she really implement the goals of the Center, and do so through the right kind of institutional structure? We are also interested in deliverables- that is, in what a proposed Center could ultimately deliver. To repeat, there is really no concrete formula for success in obtaining ERC funding. We are looking for creative ideas. We are hoping to be surprised by some very innovative concepts. We will even consider es- tablishing regional Centers in areas where there are no research univer- sities. MEASURES OF SUCCESS One other question that is frequently asked is: How will the NSF measure the success of ERCs? There are both short-term and long-term indicators we can employ to measure their success. Since Mr. Mayfield's paper presents short-term indicators, I will cite just a few of the long-term measures. First of all, 20 years from now we would like to be able to see that each of the Centers has contributed in a significant way to bringing forth new ideas that have resulted in advances in U.S. engineering industries. There is an appropriate historical model. In the early 1900s a large number of universities in Europe and England, all within a 200-mile radius of Berlin, made significant contributions to physics. In fact, many of the concepts we use in engineering today came from the work of physicists in that region. One of the questions I have often asked myself is: Why was this single group of scientists able to develop so many important new ideas and principles? My answer is that they had a unique cultural envi- ronment that enabled them to interact with each other and stimulate each other's thought processes. If they are successful and do their job right, the ERCs will help in forming an exciting cultural environment like that one an environment that will create new intellectual frontiers and many important break- throughs in engineering. The ERCs need to develop fundamentally new concepts and technologies comparable in scale to numerical control ma- chining, which was first developed 35 years ago and which is having a
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42 THE CONCEPTS AND GOALS OF ERCS major impact in industry today. We hope the ERCs will come up with ideas that, 20 years from now, will improve the way we live, the way we function, and the way we produce goods. The second long-term measure of ERC success is the impact they have on our educational system. A third measure would be the impact of the ERCs on the improvement of U.S. industrial competitiveness. NSF STRATEGY FOR STRENGTHENING ENGINEERING Some university people are very concerned about the ERCs. They are concerned because they are afraid that ERCs will decrease support for individual research projects that is, projects that are initiated by one investigator working with one or two students. It is my view that it would be counterproductive and a mistake to establish and fund ERCs at the expense of individual research support. The NSF has not done that, and does not intend to do it. Funding for individual engineering research projects has increased over the past several years. In 1983 the NSF spent $82.9 million on such projects. In 1984 the amount was increased to $86.4 million (a 4.2 percent increase). Support was increased again in 1985 to $96.8 million, an in- crease of 12 percent. And there is $107.2 million in the FY 1986 budget for this purpose; if the Congress approves the FY 1986 request, we will realize a 10.7 percent increase over the FY 1985 level. The NSF goal is to strengthen engineering research and engineering education in the United States. We know that we must move carefully on a broad front if we are to accomplish that objective. We cannot make the ERCs the only focus of increased funding. If we were to do that the Centers might soon act as magnets, attracting the best talent away from other institutions. That would weaken the fabric of engineering research in our engineering schools, and we must not let it happen. The task of building strength in engineering in the United States is a very large one. To ensure that we get this strength where it is most needed we are going to have to undertake a number of new thrusts, while con- tinuing to expand engineering research project support in the established fields. It is this type of broad-based program growth that NSF is seeking. We must have it if we are to remain a leader in engineering in the twenty- first century. It is going to take a substantial sum; I have estimated that it will cost $500 million a year. The funding that NSF is providing for ERCs is in two parts: a minimum support element for the conduct of basic research and to maintain the infrastructure of the ERCs, and a variable support element that will depend on the performance of the ERCs, including the support they get from . .
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NAM P. SUH 43 industry. Of course, these plans are contingent upon the availability of funds. The NSF hopes to establish a large number of Centers. The question is, are the numbers that we have in mind enough to solve the nation's problems in engineering? My answer is that the ERCs cannot deal with all engineering problems. There are 259 engineering schools in the United States; 210 offer graduate programs, and 150 of these offer Ph.D. degrees in engineering. Even with 25 Centers we would reach only about one- sixth of the doctorate-generating institutions. Furthermore, our data show that about one-half of the 77,000 engineering bachelor's degrees awarded in 1984 were given by institutions that do not grant Ph.D.s. What all this means is that we have a tremendous job ahead of us if we are to make a difference in the way engineering education and research are carried out in the United States. We have barely gotten started. It is apparent that we must think smartly and move ahead quickly to keep America in a leadership position in engineering. We have taken the first step. The NSF is considering a large number of other ideas that could enhance engineering education and research. I think we can all join forces to create an exciting era for engineering and to make important contributions to the nation's industrial competi- tiveness. DISCUSSION Questions for Dr. Sub centered around NSF's plans for shaping the ERC program in the future. To a question about the possibility of funding "mini-Centers" at schools where the engineering faculty is small, he replied that NSF is open to this concept if the proposal for such a Center demonstrates that it could contribute to the ultimate goals of the ERC program. He also said that there is no policy to preclude a single university from hosting more than one ERC if subsequent proposals are strong enough on their own to win support. Dr. Sub observed that the engineering research areas represented by the first six awards should not be taken to suggest a preference for high-technology fields; mature industries such as steel- making can also benefit from engineering research. The NSF will depend on the research community for ideas to shape its strategy in this regard.
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The Criteria Used in Selecting the First Centers ERIC A. WALKER It is a privilege to be part of an effort aimed at strengthening engineering in the United States. The Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) are an exciting adventure, and we have great hopes for their success. Thus, I was honored and pleased to be asked to serve on the National Science Foundation (NSF) panel that evaluated the proposals for ERCs The role of the ERC panel is to help in the selection of the most meritorious proposals, to provide advice on ways to improve their effec- tiveness, and to help ensure the program's success. After I have outlined the steps taken by the ERC panel to ensure that the best Center proposals have been selected for support, I hope it will be evident that all that should have been done was done to select the most meritorious among them. It is my good fortune to serve as cochairman of the ERC panel, along with C. Lester Hogan, former President of Fairchild Camera. Fourteen people serve on the panel; ten are from industry and four are from uni- versities. There are a number of reasons for the heavy industry represen- tation. One is the goal of the program itself, which is to develop new knowledge that will help U.S. industry maintain its industrial competi- tiveness over the long term. Another is the fact that, all together, about 300 university researchers were listed as participants in the 142 ERC proposals received by NSF. That posed potential conflict-of-interest prob- lems in the review process because most of the university people who could function as expert peer reviewers were included in the proposals as participants. The group brought together to serve on the ERC panel is impressive. In addition to Lester Hogan there are Willis Adcock, a Vice-President of 44
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ERIC A. WALKER 45 Texas Instruments; Paul Chenea, retired Vice-President for Research, Gen- eral Motors; Richard Davis, Vice-President, Martin Marietta; Ernest Kuh, Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley; John Hancock, Vice-President, United Telecommunications; Terry Loucks, Vice-President for Technology, Norton Company; Gene N. Norby, Chan- cellor, University of Colorado; Harry Paxton, Vice-President, United States Steel Company; Percy Pierre, President, Prairie View A&M University; K. Venkat, Vice-President, H. J. Heinz Company; Melvin Baron, partner and Director of Research, Weidlinger Associates; and Gordon Brown, Director, Polymer Processing, Eastman Kodak Company. It might be wondered how such a group of people could be brought together on a panel on the same day. Pete Mayfield, who has been one of the outstandingly innovative managers at NSF for many years, accom- plished this very simply by scheduling the panel's meetings for Saturdays and Sundays. There were several steps in the review process. Before the ERC panel met, the Foundation's engineering divisions had called in 88 outside ex- perts in the various engineering fields. These people served on topic-area panels. They reviewed all 142 of the ERC proposals submitted to NSF, and divided them into three categories highly recommended, recom- mended, and not recommended. Forty of the 142 proposals came through the preliminary review with a "highly recommended" rating. The content and potential impact of the research were the principal points of focus in this review. The ERC panel held its first meeting during the weekend of December 1, 1984. Nam Sub and Pete Mayfield each spoke during an opening session that lasted about an hour. The goals of the program as they appeared in the program announcement were emphasized, and we were briefed on what had been done in the preliminary reviews. We were given our charge, which was to identify 10 to 15 of the ERC proposals that were most deserving of site visits. The quality of the research, the probability that the principal investigator and his or her associates would be able to accomplish the research agenda described in the proposal, and the extent to which the proposal met the goals and objectives of the program were major considerations in our review. It was understood that the Foundation was determined to follow a National Academy of Engineering (NAE) recommendation* that the fund- ing level for each Center be sufficient to permit the Center to make a noticeable difference in its area of research. This meant that the panel *The NAE report Guidelines for Engineering Research Centers (1983) presented the NSF with recommendations regarding the establishment of an ERC program.
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48 THE CRITERIA USED IN SELECTING THE FIRST CENTERS It is interesting to note that among the consultants who participated in the site visits were Edward Jefferson, President of DuPont, and Gordon Moore, President of Intel. The Engineering Research Centers have evi- dently sparked great interest in the industrial community. Our meetings with industry people revealed that there was much greater industry interest in some proposals than even the principal investigators had imagined. After the site visits were completed the panel introduced a further step suggested by Nam Suh. Nam felt that each of the principal investigators (P.I.s) in the 14 proposals that were in the final group should have an opportunity to make a presentation to the full ERC panel. This session permitted panel members to ask questions and satisfy any unmet infor- mation needs regarding a proposal. We allowed 20 minutes for the oral presentation and reserved 10 minutes for questions. Some P.I. s commented afterward that the experience reminded them of their "orals" for the doctorate. I believe the oral presentations and the question-and-answer periods that followed were especially valuable because they gave the full panel an opportunity to learn firsthand more of the specifics of what the P.I. intended to do. Before the oral session began, Erich Bloch and Nam Suh spoke to us again about the goals of the program. Nam Suh urged the panel to be especially sensitive to a number of factors which he called "the ingredients for success." I wrote these down. They were: leadership ~ proper focus on problems · bona fide industrial participation · infrastructure, including -university commitment to cross-disciplinary research goals -internal organization · intellectual challenge should -establish new intellectual frontiers -contribute to the knowledge base -provide graduate research topics · education: should enhance opportunities for graduate and under- graduate students. Nam said that the ERC should not be a collection of individual research topics that could be funded just as well through project grants. The panel agreed that a proposal selected for support should have the potential to achieve technological breakthroughs using a cross-disciplinary research approach. In addition, the research proposed could not be "more of the same," or simply an extension of what was already being done. It had to represent a new dimension in research in the eyes of the panel.
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ERIC A. WALKER 49 I believe that the principal investigators who went through this session found it to be a tough but fair exercise. We were talking to first-rate people with superb research credentials. It was a great experience for me. I believe all the panel members learned a great deal in the course of reviewing the proposals, making site visits, and sitting through the oral presentations. The panel completed the orals at about 5 p.m. on a Saturday, and adjourned to meet again Sunday morning at 7 a.m. During the next five hours the panel members went over each of the 14 proposals. The members who had been on the site visits reviewed their findings; we studied the site-visit reports. By now each panel member knew where the strengths and weaknesses were in the proposals, and each had developed his own list of concerns about aspects of the proposals. At the Saturday meeting the principal investigators had been questioned closely about what it was that they were going to do if funds were provided. On Sunday the panel spent its time critiquing and evaluating all that it had learned about the proposals. As we moved into the final phase, the questions most often raised were these: Would the Center, if funded, make a difference? Did it have the university and industry commitment necessary to mount a bona fide cross- disciplinary effort that would push research forward in areas of industrial interest? Was there evidence of substantial university commitment to the undertaking? We had been asked to select the 6 best finalists and to rank the next 3. At noon on Sunday, then, the panel came to agreement on which of the 14 finalists it would recommend for NSF support. After more reviews by NSF management, including a thorough review by the National Science Board's Programs and Plans Committee, Erich Bloch made the award decisions with the approval of the National Science Board. The 6 proposals selected by NSF for funding were those that had been recommended for award by the ERC panel: · Engineering Center for Telecommunications Research, at Columbia University · Center for Robotic Systems in Microelectronics, at the University of California, Santa Barbara · Biotechnology Process Engineering Center at MIT · Center for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems, at Purdue University · Systems Research Center at the University of Maryland in collabo- ration with Harvard University · Center for Composites Manufacturing Science and Engineering, at the University of Delaware in collaboration with Rutgers University. We were free to select proposals for award on the basis of excellence, even if that meant selecting two proposals submitted by a single institution.
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so THE CRITERIA USED IN SELECTING THE FIRST CENTERS The proposals we selected were, therefore, those that we believed were of the highest quality and would best achieve the goals of the program. The ERC panel will continue as a standing body. Its role is to help the NSF select the best proposals for support, and to provide advice and suggestions on ways to strengthen the program as we go along. Its objective is to ensure that the program is a success. There is no question that the United States is being challenged as never before for technological lead ership. The Engineering Research Centers are a long-term investment. They should contribute significantly to efforts aimed at building America's engineering strength as we gear up for the competitive environment of the twenty-first century. The Centers will help improve the university infra- structure and will also strengthen the linkages between industry and uni- versities, areas where new strength is needed if America is to continue to produce the world's best engineers. DISCUSSION Participants asked questions regarding the selection procedure to be used by NSF in evaluating future ERC proposals. Dr. Sub responded that the selection procedure for next year will be virtually the same as that for the first year, although NSF is seeking ways to improve the process. A new program announcement had just been issued, containing slight changes from the previous announcement. Regarding the question of weighting systems for evaluation, Dr. Sub expressed an opinion that rating schemes are largely irrelevant, that the winning proposals stand out fairly quickly on the basis of quality of ideas. There is no set formula. Mr. Bloch confirmed that view, and added that the "believability" of a proposal is a major determinant that is, a pro- posal must make clear that the interdepartmental cooperation it describes is an ongoing reality rather than an image constructed just for the purpose of the proposal.
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Nurturing the Engineering Research Centers LEWIS G. MAYFIELD In response to the Fiscal Year 1985 program announcement regarding the Engineering Research Centers (ERCs), the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF) received 142 proposals from 106 different institutions. In all, the proposals requested about $2 billion over a five-year period. Slightly more than 3,000 people were listed as partic- ipants in the proposals; 75 percent of these were from various engineering disciplines and the remainder were from scientific disciplines and the humanities. The fact that so many institutions took the time and effort to write proposals is a strong indication of the desire on the part of engineering schools to initiate the type of research organization described in the an- nouncement. The message must be that the format for the Centers, in- volving as it does both research and education on topics of importance for international competitiveness, is of great interest to engineering schools. The total amount of funding requested by the proposals has a certain significance. The March 1985 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Engineering Education reports a separately budgeted engineering re- search expenditure in the United States of about $1.2 billion for 1983- 1984. The $400 million per year requested by the proposals thus represents an increase of roughly 30 percent over current expenditures, suggesting that there is substantial unused capacity within the nation's engineering education and research enterprise. It is apparent that the engineering system has the capability and the will to perform additional research and produce more graduates without experiencing undue stress. 51
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52 NURTURING THE ENGINEERING RESEARCH CENTERS The ERC announcement was unique for the Foundation in that it called for both undergraduate and graduate students to be an integral part of the research of the Centers. For the first time universities could propose an activity to the NSF which would allow them to integrate education and research in a thoroughgoing way. This is a real step forward for engineering education and research. NEW FEATURES OF THE 1986 ANNOUNCEMENT The principles in the FY 1986 program announcement are unchanged from those of 1985. That is, a proposed Center should have as its focus a topic that would lead to greater effectiveness and world competitiveness of U.S. industrial companies. Proposals may be concerned with techno- logically strong or weak U.S. industries; there is no preference here on the part of NSF. Several format changes have been made to facilitate both proposal preparation and review. First, a three-page executive summary is to be included. This summary will be extremely useful in the review of the proposals and will permit many more panelists to interact in a meaningful way during the review process. Second, the section describing the proposed research program is to be limited to 25 single-spaced pages. The point is that this section needs to be well thought out by its preparers, so that reviewers can readily come to grips with the research being proposed. The third change involves the presentation of the budget. The format for the first-year budget remains the same, but all out-year budgets must show increments above the preceding year, exclusive of equipment. This device will help everyone involved to focus on what is gained by expen- ditures above the preceding year. In addition, the FY 1986 announcement encourages the formation of consortia of schools in regions where such relationships will further the educational and research objectives of the Center. In the second round of proposals the amount and quality of industrial support will be much more important factors. In the first round there was insufficient time for proposing institutions to gain strong industrial support. I suspect that indications of industrial support will be much stronger and better substantiated in the FY 1986 proposals. The FY 1986 ERC announcement does not include a list of potential Center topics, as the first announcement did. However, at the point when about 12 Centers have been established this "open" procedure will no longer be appropriate. When the full complement of 20 to 25 Centers has been established the subject matter they represent should encompass a broad range of research areas contributing to international competitiveness.
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LEWIS G. MAYFIELD 53 Therefore, the FY 1987 announcement should suggest potential topics that complement the established Centers. The National Research Council will conduct a workshop on this subject in the fall of 1985, in time to have an impact on the FY 1987 ERC announcement. At that time we will know what the proposed topics for 1986 are, and will provide that information as one input to the workshop. The important point is that we will seek guidance before suggesting a list of topics in the FY 1987 announcement. COMMON DEFICIENCIES IN PROPOSALS Quite a few of the proposals for 1985 had certain faults in common. Many of them were much too long. I hope that the new 25-page limit for the proposed research section will encourage brevity throughout. The reading of proposals more than 800 pages long must be considered cruel and unusual punishment for reviewers! The FY 1985 announcement emphasized that research conducted at the Centers is to be cross-disciplinary in nature. In many instances this state- ment was taken so literally, and the scope of the proposed research was therefore so broad, that the research could not be adequately defined and described. Frequently the prior research of any faculty member having even a remote bearing on the focus of the proposed Center was included in the proposal. There are many potential topics for proposals which are sufficiently important and broad to meet the cross-disciplinary require- ments for a Center. Setting reasonable and manageable goals and objec- tives would have improved many proposals considerably. Those writing proposals should keep in mind that reviewers are technical people, and that they have to feel that they understand the scope and focus of the research being proposed. Even when the scope of a proposal was suitable, many proposals failed to make an analysis of the key research issues involved in the topic. Another major deficiency of many proposals was that they appeared to be collections of individual projects that might just as easily have been supported individually. Reviewers had to be convinced of the synergism of the projects and the people making up the proposed Center. A proposal viewed as a collection of projects simply did not make the grade. The impression that a proposal was a collection of projects was sometimes inadvertently conveyed by the inclusion of individual budgets for specific projects; in fact, on occasion these budgets were tailored to be about the size of standard NSF research grants. This approach gave a "business- as-usual" signal. I need not point out that NSF has a time-tested system for selection of individual research projects. Still another factor that eventually influenced decisions was the lead- ership quality of the Center director. The perceived ability of the leadership
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54 NURTURING THE ENGINEERING RESEARCH CENTERS to manage and direct the research activities of the Center was a pivotal issue during the final stages of review. The Center director has to be a versatile individual-skilled in managing people, a competent researcher, and a good leader. In addition, the Center director must be able to devote a major portion of his or her time to directing Center activities. ERC MANAGEMENT ISSUES "Systems Aspects" Both the 1985 and 1986 announcements suggest that an ERC should "emphasize the systems aspects of engineering to help educate students in synthesizing, integrating, and managing engineering systems." This feature of the Centers results from the concern expressed by industrial employers that young engineers are not prepared to deal with complex engineering systems found in practice. I believe that I have a sense of the "systems aspect of engineering"; but when I tale with others it becomes clear that everyone has a somewhat different idea of the meaning of that phrase. Some think that "design" embodies the system concept; others tend to describe specific industrial problems they have encountered as "systems problems. " Both notions leave out important parts of the system. While I would not deny that there is some value in having a diversity of definitions and opinions, I am made uncomfortable by the fact that the concept has not been carefully articulated. Of equal concern to me is how best to implement education in the systems aspects of engineering. Engineering schools have an intensive program. One must ask how much more can be added while retaining the engineering science base and the humanities that we have struggled to include in engineering curricula during the past 40 years. A workshop being held under the auspices of the NRC Cross-Disciplinary Engineering Research Committee will examine this issue and prepare a report. I think that report will be studied very carefully by engineering educators and will be of considerable value. Information Exchange Another issue of concern to me involves methods for disseminating information from the Centers to the research community, in industry as well as universities. Is the traditional university strategy of publishing in formal journals going to be sufficient for these cross-disciplinary research centers? Should innovative techniques be developed to supplement tra- ditional methods? At first reading this may not appear to be a very sig- nificant question; but it does have many ramifications when considered
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LEWIS G. MAYFIELD 55 in the context of international competition. The NRC has conducted a workshop to explore this issue. Preliminary discussions regarding this workshop have been useful. For example, I think that "information exchange" comes closer than "infor- mation dissemination" to describing the relationship that should exist with industry. After all, an important objective of the Centers is to "involve participation of engineers from industry in order to focus the research on current and projected industry needs." To accomplish this objective, uni- versities must have a meaningful dialogue with their industrial partners. I think universities should enter into agreements with industry when the exchange of information will result in a better focus of university engi- neering research on current and projected industry needs. Support money may be necessary to get industry attention, but money and attention may not be sufficient if the interaction does not result in a debate leading toward more pertinent research. The question of information exchange has many facets. Evaluation I am frequently asked how NSF is going to evaluate the Centers. There is little question that evaluation is an important management activity. The program announcement states that three years after they are established, the Centers will be reviewed by the ERC panel to determine if each Center is meeting its proposed goals and objectives, including those for quality of research and the extent of industrial participation. This evaluation will determine whether NSF will continue to support the Center fully for the remaining two years, or provide decreased funding to terminate the Center at the end of the grant. In preparation for the third-year evaluation the NSF Office of Cross- Disciplinary Research (OCDR) and the Center directors are preparing a list of progress indicators. These include items such as the names of graduate students at Centers, a list of Center publications, new courses attributed to the Center, and the amount and type of industrial support. This information will provide a factual base that will assist in the third- year evaluation, and that will also be useful for management purposes. In addition to the formal evaluation, the NSF Engineering Directorate will form liaison management teams for each of the Centers. Each team will consist of a program director closely associated with the technical aspects of the Center, a program director from OCDR, a program director from the Engineering Directorate, and several outside consultants. The program director from the Engineering Directorate will be the major in- ternal source of information for the team on the technical nature of the
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56 NURTURING THE ENGINEERING RESEARCH CENTERS Center's work. The liaison team will report to the Head of the Office of Cross-Disciplinary Research. OUTLOOK FOR THE FUTURE As everyone is aware, 1985 is a particularly interesting year in which to watch congressional action on appropriations. The President's FY 1986 budget, now before Congress, requests $25 million for ERC activity. With that amount NSF can maintain the Centers established this year and start a similar number next year. Of course no one can say for certain what the outcome of the budget process will be. It is easy to get caught up in the day-by-day problems and the rhetoric of the Engineering Research Center activity. It is important to note that in the long run the success of the program will be largely dependent on the quality and innovativeness of the research that is performed by the Centers, and on whether or not the students educated in the process make new and important contributions to the competitiveness of the United States. Many people professors, practicing engineers, and NSF staff mem- bers have devoted large amounts of time to the preparation of proposals and their evaluation. Much remains to be accomplished, and I am confident that the good relationships developed so far between universities, industry, and government with regard to the Engineering Research Center initiative will continue. DISCUSSION Several members of the audience took the opportunity to ask questions relating to the proposal preparation and review processes. Not only Mr. Mayfield, but also Messrs. Bloch, Sub, Walker, and Stever responded to these inquiries. Regarding the high cost of preparing a proposal in the light of the relatively low probability of success, one questioner asked whether NSF had considered simplifying the process, perhaps by means of a pre-proposal screening stage. NSF officials responded that no change is envisioned for the near future, but stressed the importance of the proposal preparation process to the university itself for clarifying its concepts and goals governing research. NSF is trying to locate other funding sources for some proposals. Regarding the question of what NSF might do to involve industry more meaningfully in the proposal review process, it was pointed out that con- flicts of interest must be avoided- although 40 percent to 45 percent of the members of the preliminary review panel were from industry. Two options that NSF is considering are (1) to give funded ERCs a certain
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LEWIS G. MAYFIELD 57 period of time to develop industry support; and (2) to take a long-term view of industry support, focusing on whether the essential ingredients are present in the proposal to ensure industry interest. Careful planning is necessary to ensure that a Center can continue with industry support even if NSF funding is terminated after five years. The new 25-page limit on the research section drew some concern. Mr. Mayfield emphasized that this section should not attempt to be very de- tailed; instead, it should set the framework for what the proposing insti- tution hopes to accomplish with the ERC. Certain points in the ERC program announcement were clarified, such as the reference to "rebuilding the base of engineering education." NSF officials reiterated the need to relate engineering education to engineering practice, to codify that aspect of engineering knowledge for transmittal to students, and to help universities establish a science base in this area. The importance of this work for improving international competitiveness was clarified.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: