Colleges, industry urged to spur research University presidents call for joint effort

High technology

March 28, 1998|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The presidents of three area universities said yesterday that businesses and colleges must cooperate to spur high-technology growth in the Baltimore-Washington region.

William R. Brody of the Johns Hopkins University, William E. Kirwan of the University of Maryland, College Park, and Alan Merten of George Mason University gathered at the National Archives building near the University of Maryland's flagship campus, and much of their discussion centered on a widely noted economic problem: the shortage of high-tech workers. The presidents were joined by speakers from academia and industry to talk about how the two worlds might cooperate to boost training and research. About 100 people, mainly corporate executives, attended.

"I think it represents the first time that the universities have publicly acknowledged the value of collaboration with each other and with the business community," said April Young, executive director of Potomac KnowledgeWay Project, a Reston, Va., group that helped organize the forum.

Kirwan, who will leave Maryland this summer to take over the presidency of Ohio State University, said such teamwork is sorely needed. "This region has enormous potential, and it has not been fully realized," he said. "There's an absence of the culture of collaboration that characterizes, say, Silicon Valley."

Young said she hopes the university presidents' gathering will be repeated, perhaps with additional schools joining the three that showed up yesterday.

Several speakers mentioned a scarcity of engineers, programmers and other technical workers, and called on universities to promote math and science education.

"There's a tremendous disconnect between what we need in business and what we're turning out in schools," said Michael A. Daniels, a senior vice president at Science Applications International Corp.

The event also included presentations on current partnerships between businesses and universities. For example, telecommunications firm Hughes Network Systems worked with University of Maryland students and faculty to develop high-capacity data transmission technology.

When asked why a major company such as Hughes would feel the need to draw upon a university for product research, Hughes Senior Vice President John Kenyon said, "If we're going to compete against companies that have Stanford or MIT in their back yard, what do you expect us to do? We need every edge we can possibly get."

Some of the discussion dwelled on "cultural differences" between the corporation and the university. After all, the bottom-line imperative of the boardroom might not always jibe with the speculative, trial-and-error spirit of the classroom.

Johns Hopkins' Brody said that while such differences typically haven't posed major problems for university-business collaborations, they must be kept in mind. "We don't want to turn the university into a development lab," he said.

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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