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University-Industry Demonstration Partnership 18th General Meeting


Prepared Remarks
April 23, 2014

Good morning, everyone.

On behalf of West Virginia University, it is a privilege to host this magnificent meeting of the minds — a national conference that marries the leadership of industry and academia into one game-changing powerhouse.

It is an honor for our University and for the City of Morgantown to have you here.

The University-Industry Demonstration Partnership is an important partnership that shares the same vision as a land-grant institution such as West Virginia University.

Breaking silos and forming alliances is what makes the world evolve.

This entire conference itself is a result of teamwork, as West Virginia University has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh as your hosts.

Universities need not only one another, but they need teammates from beyond the gates of higher education.

We need partners like you here in attendance — folks from industry and government.

At the university level, we can concoct all sorts of inventions and ideas. But without the help of industry and government, we struggle at getting those inventions and ideas out of the labs and into society.

Our country is going through a fundamental economic re-set, which has been painful for many sectors, including higher education.

And we will all flounder if we try to succeed on our own.

Through university-industry collaborations, we can transform challenges into opportunities.

Our partnerships will yield life-changing innovations and the skilled workforce needed for today’s economy.

Now I am not one to brag. Well, ok, maybe I am, but I believe that West Virginia University has stayed ahead-of-the-curve over the years in partnering with entities outside higher education.

For example, West Virginia University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory have served as a formidable tag team since the 1940s.

After World War II, a national interest in synthetic fuels production emerged, leading to government-sponsored coal-gasification research at West Virginia University.

More than half-a-century later, we are still working hand-in-hand with the National Energy Technology Laboratory to innovate and promote responsible energy research.

When universities and industries collaborate, it is imperative that we look beyond our own interests. We must band together for the betterment of communities, nations and futures.

Take for example, math professor Marjorie Darrah. She developed software to help students with visual impairments learn science and math more effectively.

The learning system, which is geared toward middle schoolers, uses haptic technology to add touch to science and math education.

The software is currently being used at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, located in the Eastern Panhandle of our state.

Marjorie worked with a company called eTouchSciences in developing this software — another fine example of a university-industry partnership meant to enhance humankind.

I am confident that collaborations between our university and industry will further expand into the future.

Last August, we created the position of “Director of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Commercialization” in our Research and Economic Development Office.

For that position, we hired Matt Harbaugh. Matt spent 15 years as an active investor, advisor and leader of technology companies in sectors ranging from mobile apps and enterprise software, to healthcare and energy.

His role is to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation among faculty, students, industry and community.

One thing that Matt has already accomplished here is to create a start-up incubator for students called LaunchPad.

This initiative is aimed at students interested in starting their own company. We are helping mold entrepreneurs for the real world.

What we do is connect those students with industrial partners, who work with them to evaluate their ideas and give advice to bring those ideas to their maximum commercial potential.

What we are striving for mirrors what you are doing here this week.

Without the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership, some of these conversations might otherwise never take place.

Teaching, research and service are the core of what we do. And nothing brings all three together like initiatives such as UIDP, where the ideas, technologies, and systems developed in classrooms and labs can be translated into society for the betterment of all.

Think for a moment about Andrew Carnegie. He was one of the most groundbreaking industrialists in the history of mankind who helped pave a way for research and discovery.

I think guys like Carnegie understood this early on — that university-industry collaboration is a necessity in the global landscape.

And in today’s world, the United States can only compete based on ingenuity and new ideas.

Higher education will be ever more important to the success of the American economy — because higher education is in the business of ingenuity and new ideas.

I often tell people that we are in the “thinking business.”

That’s something we must tell ourselves day-in and day-out — regardless of your profession.

As we journey further into the 21st century, we must continually think — and we must continually build upon our partnerships — whether across disciplines, across institutions, or across borders and time zones.

For so long, the American system of higher education has been the envy of the world. Our colleges are economic engines, generators of insights and breakthroughs, knowledge cities, and cultural communities.

That wonderful system is in jeopardy.

If we are not the architects of our future, we will be the victims of our destiny.

To adapt to the ever changing and ever more demanding world, we need to think outside of our own selves.

And that is why collaborative juggernauts like UIDP are a necessary engine for the journey into the future.