The engineering community is diverse in many ways – including different demographics, industries, and job functions. As part of this diversity, the community includes members from both industry and academia. At times, they seem to be different worlds, but we’re all part of the same community, and we do affect each other. The students who are educated in universities will, in large part, move on to work in industrial settings. Industrial problems can benefit from the perspectives of researchers in academia, who can also benefit from industry’s point of view. Closer links and better alignment between industry and academia are good for everyone, although they don’t always happen the way we might wish.
In December of 2018, the National Academy of Engineering held a workshop on this topic. The specific focus of the workshop was on "Engineering Societies’ Activities in Helping Align Industry and Academia" and the participants were drawn from a variety of organizations and backgrounds. As an active member of SWE’s Women in Academia committee, I had the opportunity to participate in this workshop.
The day started off with a panel representing perspectives from both industry and academia. Dora Smith from Siemens PLM and Steven Chisholm from Boeing provided an industry perspective. Oscar Barton from George Mason University & ABET along with Gregory Washington from the University of California, Irvine, offered a university perspective. After presentations and discussion, a series of "lightning round" presentations were given by representatives of various technical and professional societies, including SAE and ASCE to name but a few. These short talks focused on a variety of areas, including pre-college programs designed to spark students’ interest in engineering, programs for current college students, efforts to define and promote bodies of knowledge that engineers need to have in industry, and interactions with engineering faculty at universities.
In the afternoon, a panel presented examples of interactions between industry and academia that are working well, with a focus on why and how they function. The presenters included James Woodell, Consultant; Abi Abolmaali, University of Texas at Arlington; Greg Shaver, Purdue University; Bill Wepfer, Georgia Tech, who presented jointed with Jeff Smith, Autodesk; and Karen Thole, Penn State University. The collaborations were quite different in many cases, but all focused on creating value for industry, academia, and the students involved. After this panel, participants went into breakout sessions, to discuss what perfect alignment would look like, what it requires, and what barriers exist. In particular, there was a focus on what engineering societies can do. Some of the major barriers involved time and money – in other words, having the resources needed to implement changes. One idea from the breakout sessions involved hosting industry-academia breakfasts for networking purposes and to promote more networking between industry and academia. At the end of the day, participants were challenged to "pick one thing from the list of possible actions and do it."
Do you want to pick something and do it? Or just interested in learning more about the workshop? The report is available here and the PowerPoint slides from all the presentations are available as PDF files on the workshop website.
Content was provided by Dr. Diane Peters who has an extensive background in both industry and academia. She held a variety of industrial positions prior to returning to school for a doctorate and pursuing an academic career. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Kettering University in Flint, MI.