July 1, 2011

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Higher Education

Utah Business Staff

July 1, 2011

MILLNER: One of the things that brought together the Department of Workforce Services, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the Utah System of Higher Education, UCAT and others is to focus on the economic development cluster projects.

How do we build the talent in this state in order to be able to support that cluster growth? We began that kind of work with the aerospace cluster in northern Utah, pulling in the key players—ATK, L-3, Hill Air Force Base and others—bringing them to the table with higher education and saying, “What do you need in terms of a workforce, thinking out the next three to five years?”

None of us are going to do all of this work ourselves. We’re the conveners as institutions, pulling together the business community, the education community.

ROY: Innovation is a team sport—it’s not the lone garage inventor anymore. It’s kind of this intersection between ideas and industry. Higher education is set up to continue to move those ideas forward into industry. With USTAR, for instance, it’s really about bringing entrepreneurs into the university setting, working with the universities for some intellectual property, and then taking that outside, commercializing it, and growing businesses.

The other piece is industry-sponsored research where industries say, “We have a real problem in this area. You have some expertise within the university—help us solve this problem.” It’s the perfect playground for universities, colleges and the industries, especially in Utah.

How has USTAR impacted education and the community?
ROY: USTAR was built on the backs of all the educators that were here for years before. We focused on areas that we already had a competitive advantage, like digital media. That was the key piece—that there was already a great strength.

What USTAR did is three basic programs: Some buildings that would help draw more university professors of world class to research universities; and then those researchers bring us more intellectual property, more opportunities. The last part is the outreach to the rest of the state.

In all three areas, according to the prospectus that was put in place in 2006, we’re ahead of the game. We’re stealing world-class researchers from universities all over the world: We’ve got somebody from Australia, we’ve got Harvard professors. We’re really doing a good job at the two research universities of bringing in topnotch, quality researchers.

In outreach, over 40 companies are building prototypes based on our technology commercialization grants. Salt Lake Community College, Utah Valley, Weber State, Dixie—all across the state, entrepreneurs are finding opportunities to collaborate.

If you look at the actual statistics, we’re 180 to 190 percent ahead of each one.

PERSHING: We actually want to hire 34 new faculty from all across the country, in some cases across the world, into new USTAR positions. There’s no way we would have been able to do anything like that. The building is going to open this fall, and we’re very excited about it. So it has been transformative in terms of what it’s done—but I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that it’s just the people we hire.

One of the great advantages of USTAR is that people we hire come in and collaborate with our existing stars in very positive ways, and some of that is certainly greater than one plus one equals two. So for us, USTAR made a huge win.

We’ve all heard different iterations of what’s going on in U.S. public and higher education compared to other developing and European countries. Thomas Friedman compares our growing education gap to a permanent national recession, because we have to educate ourselves out of it.

PERSHING: I want to take exception with that, because I don’t buy the idea that higher education is second class in the United States today, certainly not at the graduate professional level. We are seeing more and more students coming to the United States than ever before. And even in undergraduate programs, the world recognizes that if you want to get the best higher education you can, the United States is the place to do that now.

I think that’s particularly true because we have more creative programs. And we also offer the cutting edge science and technology development for the world.

One of the key criticisms that you hear about education is on math and science scores. Is there is a need for a more robust science technology, engineering and math investment?
PERSHING: I certainly would agree with that, but don’t translate that to thinking that the graduates of our institutions are not very skilled in both math and science areas and also in creative areas. I want to be careful about connecting that.

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