Engineering Research Centers
June 11, 2009
The Engineering Research Centers (ERC) program was created in 1984 to bring technology-based industry and universities together in an effort to strengthen the competitive position of American industry in the global marketplace. These partnerships established cross-disciplinary centers focused on advancing fundamental engineering knowledge and engineered systems technology while exposing students to the integrative aspects of engineered systems and industrial practice. The objective has been to produce new generations of engineering graduates who are highly innovative, diverse, globally engaged and effective as technology leaders in industry.
In 2006, NSF revisited the originally defined goals and purposes of the program to initiate the third generation (Gen-3) of ERCs to meet the needs of industry in an increasingly global economy where the U.S. competitive advantage lies in its capacity to innovate. The goal of the Gen-3 ERC program is to build on the proven core goals of Gen-1 and Gen-2 ERCs and add features that will create a culture that more actively stimulates technological innovation through partnerships with small firms in translational research, organizations devoted to entrepreneurship and foreign universities. Five Gen-3 centers were established in 2008. These and future Gen-3 ERCs will advance transformational engineered systems and produce graduates who will be creative innovators in the global economy.
To achieve these goals, Gen-3 ERCs have the following key features:
- A guiding strategic vision for a transformational engineered system and the development of an innovative, globally competitive engineering workforce;
- Partnerships with foreign universities to add value in research and education;
- A strategically planned discovery- and systems-motivated cross-disciplinary research program, including as partners small firms engaged in translational research;
- Education programs strategically designed to produce creative, innovative engineers by engaging students in all phases of the research and innovation process;
- Long-term partnerships with middle and high schools aimed at bringing engineering concepts to the classroom and increasing enrollment in college-level engineering degree programs;
- Partnerships for technology transfer and innovation formed with member firms and local-level organizations devoted to stimulating entrepreneurship and speeding technological innovation.
These centers are funded for 10 years. Since 1985, a total of 51 ERCs have been formed across the United States, with 15 currently in operation and five more planned for initiation in 2010 and 2011. Surveys of industry employers have shown that ERC graduates are viewed by 80 percent of their supervisors as being more productive than their peers because, through their ERC experience, they know how to integrate knowledge to advance technology. A 2007 study of the impacts of ERC-generated technologies found that the economic value of products and processes deriving from the ERCs was already in the low tens of billions of dollars, with some centers having had a transformational impact on their field of engineering and technology.
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.
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