Higher education constantly must evolve in order to meet not just the demands of students but also those of business and industry. Long gone are the days when programs, courses, and curricula were driven just by the outlooks, beliefs, and decisions of faculty and administrators.

Today, to ensure students receive the education they seek and that will empower them in professional careers and to guarantee that colleges and universities are graduating individuals who meet the demands of corporations and organizations, those colleges and universities must be open, aware, collaborative and, yes, educated.

“We look to industry to find out their needs and how to merge what we do from an educational and research standpoint,” said. Anthony Lowman, dean of the nationally ranked Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University, Glassboro.

Lowman’s college has a longstanding approach to that in its eight-semester undergraduate engineering clinic sequence, through which students in multiple engineering majors team with professors to conduct R&D for business, industry, government, and non-profit “clients.”

Since the college’s opening almost 20 years ago, teams have partnered on a wide array of research for and with organizations in New Jersey and beyond, on tasks that address topics that range from green pharmaceuticals to airport runways, biofuels to nanotechnology. “The natural ‘easy’ synergy for us and business and industry is through the engineering clinic that exists as the foundation of Rowan’s undergraduate program and also will be the core of our engineering doctoral program,” Lowman explained.

Starts with listening While it takes time and cooperation to build programs that meet business and industry needs, the first step in the process is fundamental.

“We listen,” Lowman said. “At technical conferences, economic development conferences, industry visits to campus, and our visits to industry sites, we listen.”

Among the concerns that he and other administrators at Rowan explore:

What positions does the firm need to fill?

Existing Rowan programs that address those needs and/or programs that are feasible to develop to address those needs and the time, personnel, and finances to bring them to fruition.

Other educational needs the firm has. Educational or professional development needs Rowan can help the company meet onsite.

Other ways Rowan can support the company. How new programs will impact students, businesses and industry in general, and how they will benefit the New Jersey economy.

“Rowan is deeply invested in the community and in New Jersey,” noted Ali Houshmand, president. “We make all critical decisions with an eye to increasing access, providing a quality education, ensuring education is affordable, and serving as a driver of the economy.” Houshmand added that Rowan is committed to helping industry grow.

Higher education helps create a natural magnet for business and industry. Companies tend to gravitate to communities with trained workforces. In addition to educating students in highly respected STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and other disciplines, Rowan boasts faculty who are leading researchers and innovators themselves, as well as access to research labs, business support, and space in which to locate entire firms or branch offices in the South Jersey Technology Park at Rowan University in Mantua Township.

Spur economic growth. “When we partner with business and industry, we improve higher education, increase opportunities for our graduates and spur the growth of the state economy,” Houshmand said.

A prime example of how the university is working with business can be seen in an agreement reached last year. In early 2014, Lockheed Martin and Rowan undertook an innovative, strategic partnership to develop new technologies and products for a broad range of radar system applications in support of U.S. Navy and Missile Defense Agency customers. As threats to the U.S. become increasingly more complex, this next generation of radar technology is critical to protecting national assets and requires the dedication of an educated workforce.

The two long-time collaborators, which have worked on clinic projects, expanded their partnership to develop research teams that focus on product development as well as educational opportunities. The global technology leader and the New Jersey research institution will base their future work at the South Jersey Technology Park, about a mile from Rowan’s main campus in Glassboro.

The agreement furthers students’ education and also provides Lockheed Martin and other businesses with a talented workforce, with young professionals who enter their first jobs equipped with valuable experience. By expanding its activity in South Jersey, Lockheed Martin will further contribute to the economic development of the region.

Another example is a program Rowan undertook with the Moorestown office of ASRC Federal Mission Solutions Engineering, a full-service systems and software engineering provider with more than 40 years’ experience in delivering mission systems. Rowan partnered with ASRC Federal MSE in fall 2012 on a computer science master’s program, held at the company’s training facility. The program graduated its first students this May.

New programs. Lowman noted that Rowan has developed or is developing certificate programs and concentrations, which address business and industry needs, such as those in construction management and engineering entrepreneurship. Collaborating with business and industry, working with them to develop educational programs is not new at Rowan University. It is, however expected to grow. Said Lowman, “This is part of the Rowan philosophy: How can we use our strengths to solve your problems or meet your needs?”

Quigley is the assistant director of media and public relations at Rowan University. Reprinted from the NJ Tech Council website, www.njtc.org.

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