Fred Beaufait
Greenfield Coalition
Focus:Hope and Wayne State University

William Shelnutt
Associate Professor
University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Jack Hebrank
Adjunct Associate Professor
North Carolina State University


Fred Beaufait, chairman of the workshop, asked all participants to briefly identify themselves, describe the industry interactions in which they were involved, and outline best practices or other issues in building partnerships between industry and academic institutions.

The group broke into six subgroups. Each subgroup was asked to:

  1. Brainstorm best practices or issues
  2. Identify one or more for presentation to the group
  3. Report on their best practices or issues.

The reports of the subgroups follow. Results of both the morning and afternoon sessions (which followed the same format) are reported.

1.     Cooperative Education Programs (Including Internships)

Pros of Co-ops Cons
Students get better jobs, are more employable. Scheduling courses around co-op or internship experiences is difficult.
Industry is enthusiastic. Quality control (to ensure educational value) is challenging.
Students acquire a better understanding of the workplace, return to their studies more motivated. It is not always easy to involve companies in supervising students.
There are opportunities for faculty development through contact with industry. Programs add an extra year to the students' studies.

Internships and cooperative education, the subgroup said, are for all practical purposes the same thing. There are many variations, but it is useful to consider them together.

Participants discussed the issues raised by this presentation. Taylan Altan, director of the Net Shape Manufacturing Center (an Engineering Research Center [ERC] with funding from the industry and the state) at The Ohio State University, observed that co-op experience is universal at German engineering schools. "On-line co-op" is also possible (as, for example, at his campus-based institution), on the model of the Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany.

Fred Beaufait noted that many engineering students (about 80% at Wayne State) have part-time jobs. Co-op education is a good alternative to working at unrelated low-paying jobs for many students.

One participant pointed out that the faculty-industry contacts developed in arranging and supervising co-op education are valuable in themselves. They help build mutual respect and understanding, they give faculty a window on the needs and priorities of industry, and they give industrial representatives an appreciation of students' educational needs (which go beyond the immediate workforce needs of industry). They can even result in additional research funding.

2.     Internships

Internships are immensely valuable for students, but they challenge the values and traditions of all participants:

  1. The differing time horizons of companies and academic institutions can cause conflicts; product cycles are growing shorter in the private sector, but in the academic sector the time to graduation has remained the same or even increased in recent years.
  2. Some faculty members may discourage internships as an unwarranted interruption of students' studies. Students, on the other hand, can find them stimulating and inspiring, as well as advantageous in finding a job after graduation.
  3. Industry must be involved in planning the internships, but some firms may tend to use interns simply as cheap labor. Internships should be integrated into the rest of the curriculum, while exposing students (and faculty) to the competencies needed by working engineers.

Discussion focused on the need for engineering schools to administer these arrangements carefully . They require clear schedules, structures, and objectives.

3.     Small Company Involvement

Involving smaller firms as industrial partners raises special problems. One must understand individual companies' needs. Engineering schools should do whatever is possible to lower any hurdles; for example, a company may begin by funding a research project and may then go on to become involved in curriculum development. Because many firms rely on universities as research labs, such a progressive sequence of involvement may seem natural. Engineering schools must market their research services to these companies in addition to larger ones.

The advantages of involving small companies as partners include the following:

In ensuing discussion, it was observed that marketing to small companies is more labor-intensive than marketing to larger ones, so universities need to work harder.

4.     Structuring Partnerships with Industry

Strong, productive partnerships with industry, this subgroup reported, require a degree of structure that academics may find uncomfortable. Successful partnerships require:

While many partnerships with industry have been mounted over the years, sustaining them is a serious problem. Most faculty have no industrial work experience. Junior faculty have a well-known lack of incentives for working with industry as partners (because tenure decisions -- made generally by the most conservative members of the faculty -- do not reward such work).

In the following discussion, it was suggested that NSF and other grant-making agencies should explicitly reward young engineering faculty for building partnerships with industry, to counteract the problem of tenure incentives. One current NSF program with this objective is GOALI (Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry). More incentives along this line are needed. For example, NSF should consider scoring proposals partly for the extent and quality of industrial interaction.

One way to keep industry involved over time would be to include explicit "deliverables" among the objectives. Doing so, however, runs counter to the academic culture, which traditionally considers students to be the only deliverables.

5.     "On-Line" (On Campus) Co-op Education

Students can have many of the benefits of co-op education without leaving campus, said this subgroup, by working on industry-funded research projects. Academic-industrial research and technology centers, such as ERCs, provide good platforms for these activities. Students experiences give them insight into the problems of industry. Industry gains cheap labor and access to promising young engineers. But faculty members receive no benefits under the current reward system. In fact, they are likely to see these programs as drains on their precious time, which could be devoted to publishing and raising research funding.

6.     Changing the University Culture to Accept and Support Partnerships with Industry

The tenure system and other professional rewards are one source of the difficulty of involving faculty with industry in joint educational activities. Both junior and senior faculty are reluctantto involve themselves, because they are so busy. In addition, many faculty are leery of restrictions on academic freedoms (such as free publication of results). Large industry-university collaborative research centers such as ERCs can help reduce the workload imposed on faculty, because they handle many of the necessary administrative tasks.

Industry must perceive its participation in joint projects as advantageous. Efforts must be made to establish a situation in which the students, the companies, and the institution all win. The corporate partners' short-term workforce needs must be met, but not at the expense of the versatility that students will need in their careers. A similar balance must be struck between companies' desire for protection of proprietary information and the academic interest in free communication. Engineering schools and their parent institutions need to spell out clearly, at the outset of joint activities, what limitations on publication are permissible.

Constant attention to the balance of power is inherent in these negotiations. Students' freedom to make mistakes must be protected in these arrangements.

Alternative faculty rewards, it was suggested, are needed to encourage faculty to work with undergraduates in this way. New measures of professional achievement, for example, might include involvement with industry and undergraduates.

7.     Involving Industry at All Levels in Curriculum Development

Involving industry in curriculum development is highly desirable but challenging. The work is time-consuming. Funds are needed to cover the time of faculty and industry representatives. From the faculty's standpoint, industry may be seen as intruding in the traditional way of doing things.

Discussion centered on the difficulty of establishing mutually satisfying relationships in curriculum development. Industry tends to see engineering schools as a system of
"farm teams," which are supported by academic and government resources and therefore do not require additional industrial funding. The parallel case of professional football and basketball teams (which draw their recruits without compensation from university-supported teams) was mentioned. The strength of this parallel is questionable, though, some said, because college sports are supported largely by broadcast revenues.

Small companies, it was suggested, should be a special focus of academic curriculum development efforts. They are the main sources of innovation and growth in the economy, and serving their research and education needs is a potential growth area for engineering schools. Curriculum development partnerships need not involve transfers of funds, a participant suggested. Small companies in particular may have other resources (facilities, equipment, technology, and cutting-edge engineering problems) that they can contribute to engineering curricula.

Engineering curricula must become more responsive to industry, one participant said. Most engineering students will go on to work in industry, and every effort should be made to reflect industry's problems in curricula and in the academic culture. Faculty incentives should be radically revised to orient them toward industry, rather than simply toward the demands of research funding agencies such as NSF. The funding agencies themselves should emphasize industrial partnership more than they do, with extra credit for educational collaboration with industry.

8.     Advisory Boards at the College Level

Industrial advisory boards at the college level should be structured to reflect the two main functions of advisory boards. First, they should have high-level corporate representatives (CEOs or senior vice presidents) to provide access and informal links with corporate management. A second-tier group should include lower-level corporate staff, from vice presidents for engineering or research to working engineers; this second group can be relied on for actual work, as in developing curricula and internship programs. These boards can be organized in subcommittees, with substantive responsibilities and concrete objectives.

Industrial partners are vital to engineering schools in shaping curricula around the competencies students need in the workplace. One the other hand, joint work on curriculum development or internship programs, one participant said, can result in issues regarding the proper balance between industrial and academic interests. Such work requires oversight to avoid tilting too far in either direction.

9.     Various Issues

One group opted to present two best practices and one "bad practice":

In discussion, it was observed that inviting industry to help develop academic programs can lead to stronger relationships, including additional research funds.


The chairman, facilitators, and workshop participants worked together to choose the most important best practices and issues from those identified throughout the day. They developed a list of issues and best practices and assigned priorities by voting for those they considered most vital.

Based on this group analysis, Fred Beaufait selected the six highest-priority items and added two more issues gleaned from the day's discussions. He reported these in his summary to the conference plenary session later in the day:

  • Modify the university culture in ways that will allow academe to better support industrial partnerships and better recognize the importance of industry's role in education and research
  • Build on existing long-term relationships to form new areas of interaction in education
  • Structure industry/academic partnerships to include objectives and deliverables, not just financial support
  • Internships/co-op should be driven by strong collaboration with industry, should be carefully structured, and should involve faculty in planning and monitoring
  • Establish strong college-level advisory boards, allowing industrial input on design, professional practices, etc., to filter down to the departments and into courses
  • Participate in strategic planning, benchmarking, and marketing with industrial partners
  • Curriculum development with industrial collaboration (industry needs to know that the faculty are listening)
  • Involve alumni, university, and industry in win/win interactions for good projects.