July 2, 2012

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Article

Head of the Class

Utah Innovates to Reach Big Goals in Education

Brad Plothow

July 2, 2012

Utah’s emphasis on innovation is illustrated by a current dialogue about how to measure and deliver education. At the higher ed level, there’s considerable discussion about “the tuning process,” which involves taking a critical look at even the most basic elements of the educational machine. Should the conferral of degrees be based on time (credits earned) or knowledge acquired (demonstration of essential outcomes)? And how can the educational structure be more cognizant of regional employers, graduate institutions and the handoff between public and higher ed? The tuning dialogue addresses these and other key questions.

Utah institutions also employ traditional methods of bridging the gap between public and higher education—a key aspect in reaching the Prosperity 2020 goal. Each institution administers active career pathways programs to help students determine professional interests from an early age, and initiatives such as the K-16 alliance signal that education doesn’t end at high school graduation.

Underprivileged groups receive support through programs such as SLCC’s Partnerships for Accessing Education or WSU’s Dream Weber initiative. The SLCC program offers two-year scholarships to students who come from disadvantaged circumstances and connects them to summer internships and employment opportunities with local businesses. Dream Weber provides free tuition each year to hundreds of students from low-income households or those who are the first in their families to pursue higher education.

Engines of Growth
Utah’s educational institutions take an active approach to spurring economic growth. There isn’t a technology commercialization enterprise in the nation more successful than the University of Utah’s in recent years. After nipping at its heels for some time, the U surpassed the vaunted Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the number of spinoff companies it produced in 2009 and held the No. 1 spot in 2010 as well.

Down the road in Provo, BYU’s technology commercialization operation ranks No. 1 nationally in key areas such as patent applications, spinoff companies and licenses executed per $1 million in research expenditures.

One of the driving factors in the technology commercialization process is attracting world-class research faculty, which is the role of the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative. Codified into State law in 2006, USTAR has provided funding and support to build a physical and intellectual framework in Utah that helped maximize the unique research strengths of the University of Utah and USU, in particular.

“The important input for our success is the number of inventions produced by our faculty, and this is where USTAR is important,” says Jack Brittain, vice president for technology venture development at the University of Utah. “By helping us hire the top faculty inventors in the world, we are increasing the number of opportunities we have to support commercial success. We are currently running at a rate of about 10 percent of our inventions turning into start-ups (we license another 30 percent to existing companies), and we do not see this ratio of success changing.”

The Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership (UCAP) provides another mechanism for leveraging the State’s colleges and universities to grow the economic pie. Whereas USTAR’s focus is on developing new technologies and industries, UCAP is designed to accelerate existing Utah industries through applied research. A joint initiative of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the higher education system, UCAP uses the State’s institutions of higher learning as regional bases to bring concentrated energy to developing key industries such as aerospace, digital media, energy, financial services and life sciences.

Public. Private. Partners.
Formal education doesn’t have to be limited to The Academy. For proof, look no further than these examples of public and private organizations that partner on educational initiatives.

  • BioInnovations Gateway: This program brings together public and private resources to create an incubator for emerging technologies in the biotech and medical device industries. Located within the Granite Technical Institute, the incubator provides learning opportunities for students and contract research services for industry.
  • Young Women in Science: ATK saw the lack of women entering aerospace fields as a strategic business issue, so the company launched a bi-annual immersive educational experience for girls in grades six through nine. Today, ATK’s Young Women in Science event attracts some 700-900 girls at two events in Utah each year.
  • L3 University of Manufacturing: Who says higher education isn’t nimble? Responding to a specific local need, Salt Lake Community College developed a custom electronics technician program to train employees at L3 Communications. The eight-week program is now a template for other custom training sessions that may be developed in the future.

State Colleges and Universities
Dixie State College of Utah
www.dixie.edu

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