Collaboration putting students at intersection of innovation, industry

ERIE, Pa. — When WQLN Public Media developed a new television series highlighting innovators, entrepreneurs and high-tech collaborations in Erie County, producers knew where to look first: Penn State. The series, “Reach Innovation,” launched with a 30-minute program that focuses on Knowledge Park, a 125-acre technology complex operated by Penn State Behrend.

The program, which can be viewed here, includes interviews with Joseph Snyder, president of Process and Data Automation, and Timothy Piazza, of SKF Aeroengine North America. Both companies moved to Knowledge Park to gain access to Penn State Behrend’s students, faculty members and labs.

“We are supporting the University’s vision for building a modern, living automation laboratory,” said Snyder, who has funded internships, research projects and capstone senior projects at Penn State Behrend. “Knowledge Park’s location and facilities support the connectivity of our two organizations. We are now within literal walking distance of the campus.”

The seven buildings in Knowledge Park house 20 companies with more than 500 employees. The complex expanded this year with the opening of the $16.5 million, 60,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Center (AMIC), which was designed to encourage daily interactions between Penn State Behrend students and faculty experts and business and industry partners who want to collaborate on research and manufacturing projects. SKF has reserved 2,700 square feet of the building’s industry space.

AMIC advances Penn State Behrend’s “open lab” model of learning, in which students and faculty members work side by side with engineers, research techs and others from business and industry to explore ideas, advance technologies and refine products and services. Students benefit from the expertise and knowledge of industry professionals, who, in turn, get access to new talent, fundamental and applied research and support for technology transfer.

“Innovation most often occurs at the places where people and ideas intersect,” Chancellor Ralph Ford said. “By co-locating students, faculty members and industry partners in shared space, with access to the region’s most advanced technology, we are removing many of the obstacles that can limit the development or refinement of products.”

AMIC builds on a collaborative model first tested at Penn State Behrend in 2006, when the college co-located its schools of business and engineering in what is now the Jack Burke Research and Economic Development Center.

The college already had a long history of partnering with business and industry. Its Plastics Engineering Technology program — one of only four accredited programs in the country — was in part a response to a need identified by local plastics manufacturers. That level of engagement has continued, particularly in Knowledge Park, as more than 70 percent of the School of Engineering’s senior projects are now sponsored by industry, including SKF.

“I had to leave the area to have the type of real-world experiences that are now being offered every day, right here in Erie at the Behrend College,” Piazza says in the “Reach Innovation” video. “Having science and engineering opportunities like those offered at Penn State make it easier to get the education tomorrow’s engineers and scientists need. These opportunities being so close to home make it easier to stay local, begin a career here and support local business.”

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Last Updated October 14, 2016