In addition to the four panel sessions, the symposium featured two breakout sessions designed to elicit a broad range of ideas by dividing symposium participants into working groups and asking the groups to address a set of questions. Each breakout session consisted of six groups, each of which was charged with considering a group of questions and arriving at a set of challenges and opportunities. The challenges and opportunities each group arrived at were displayed to the full symposium membership, although no consensus was sought. The purpose was to provide additional food for thought to the study committee in its deliberations. In the first breakout session, which followed the first two panels, the questions for the breakout groups were as follows:
- What features of non-U.S. center-based engineering research might be adopted or adapted to improve the performance of U.S. centers?
- What aspects of globalization are most relevant to center-based engineering research and how can they best be leveraged?
- How can centers balance the need to be globally connected with the need to create value for U.S.-based industry?
- What innovative features of university-industry interactions might be adopted or adapted to improve the performance of center-based engineering research programs?
- How can university-based engineering research centers best position themselves to be relevant to industry?
- What are the advantages and challenges for centers associated with partnering with small versus large companies?
In the second breakout session, the working groups addressed the following questions:
- What new or promising developments in engineering education seem most likely to improve the performance of center-based engineering research programs?
- What role might such centers play in developing and evaluating new approaches/methods/models of engineering education?
- How might industry engagement in engineering education associated with centers be improved?
- What features of center-based engineering research are most likely to lead to maximum innovation, namely maximum value creation for society/industry?
- How can best practices be codified and disseminated so that all centers derive maximum benefit?
- What features of center-based engineering research are most likely to encourage entrepreneurship, and facilitate technology transfer and start-up formation?
As noted, each working group engaged in wide-ranging discussions covering a number of topics, and they attempted to distill a number of opportunities and challenges associated with major symposium
themes. The opportunities and challenges made by the working groups (symposium attendees) are listed below. The breakouts were idea-generation activities. All ideas were welcome, and no special weight should be given to any of the recommendations. They should not be considered consensus statements of the entire symposium, nor recommendations of the study committee.
- Promoting an exchange of students and faculty between the U.S. centers and foreign countries is a win-win proposition: the U.S. gains access to foreign talent while U.S. students and faculty gain knowledge and experience with foreign cultures and markets.
- Global engagement helps increase faculty’s and students’ international business acumen as well as sensitivity to the need for solutions to be developed in the context of cultural norms, privacy concerns, and other local considerations.
- The logistics of engaging foreign partners are daunting, including intellectual property issues, funding restrictions, and export control concerns.
- Centers should consider a fluid two-way movement of personnel and data between universities and industry partners, including professors of practice from industry at universities, university faculty sabbaticals, and student internships in industry. This includes colocation for an extended period of time.
- Centers should consider professional managers to bridge the unique features of university and industry cultures, such as differences in pace of work and funding horizons, university “tech push,” and industry “demand pull.”
- Centers should attempt to focus on fundamental knowledge that is pre-competitive so that there are no barriers to the free flow of information back and forth.
- If the centers choose to tackle big ideas and grand challenges, it is important to decompose the problem into tractable parts that are well defined.
- Becoming too industry-focused could compromise the education mission.
- Large and small companies have different goals and dynamics in partnering with centers.
- Universities may need to relinquish some control of the center to industry.
- Centers will likely need to deal with not-for-profit outcomes such as creative commons, open source, flexible intellectual property licensing.
- Centers could incorporate a design element to identify possible new products.
- Centers could promote more “systems thinking” in curricula as well as big-picture thinking about desirability, viability, and policy.
- Centers could sponsor competitions and hackathons to solve focused problems to promote innovation and team building.
- Undergraduate and graduate education could be more integrated.
- Undergraduates and graduates could be exposed to and integrated into translational research.
- Changing university culture is extremely difficult.
- Some foreign models, such as the German, British, Dutch, and Swiss models, are better at addressing the entire innovation pipeline and metrics for success from which U.S. centers could learn.
- Centers should consider rethinking the goal of monetizing intellectual property. Open access to all intellectual property should be considered.
- Intellectual property policies should be standardized.
- Centers could develop an organized approach to early discovery of potential customers for their applied research and start to plan a tech transfer path.
- Centers should seek to identify available resources and support system for translational research.
- Principal investigators tend to work as individuals rather than as members of a coherent team.
In addition to these common themes, the working group discussions also produced a number of additional thoughts on challenges and observations made by individual members of the working groups. These included the following:
- Ten to 20 percent of center funds could be set aside for discretionary seed money.
- Locating a center in an industrial setting committed to the free flow of information could be considered, with the university researchers coming to that center.
- Centers should consider finding ways to incorporate national laboratory researchers. National laboratories can help to bridge the valley of death through systems development and integration.
- The centers should consider re-orienting engineering schools to focus on undergraduate and master’s degrees, not Ph.Ds.
- Multidisciplinary courses should consider going beyond science and engineering to incorporate social sciences and cultural competency.
- Centers could develop a curriculum in entrepreneurship and leadership skills for the global environment that could be adopted university-wide.
- Engineering schools should consider separate industry versus academic tracks for Ph.D. students. There could also be training for alternative career paths, such as on the not-for-profit and public policy arenas.
- A “National Center/Industry Day” technology fair could help connect companies with centers and promote information sharing. Clearinghouses could advertise available intellectual property and venture capitalists could be brought in to evaluate that intellectual property.
- TED talks, incorporation of social media, and webinars can help in promoting center best practices as well as reasons for failures.
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