President emphasizes economic development and student career success priorities

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In his remarks to Penn State’s Board of Trustees today (Sept. 19), President Eric Barron highlighted another of his six University priorities -- identifying strategic opportunities for Penn State to expand its already significant role in Pennsylvania’s economic development and reinforce student career success.

“The University’s role in economic development and student career success is one of my favorite topics, and one of great importance to the University, the larger community and the Commonwealth,” Barron said. “Penn State is a powerful economic engine, but with careful allocation of resources and commitment to programs and partnerships, we can create an even more powerful path for the University to be recognized as a driver of both economic and student success.”

Barron said six thematic areas can help the University deliver even greater support for students’ professional achievement, and also grow Pennsylvania regional and statewide economies:

-- Create a culture of entrepreneurship in all areas of study, and among faculty, staff and students;

-- Promoting patents, licensing and start-ups;

-- Investing in innovation;

-- Encouraging economic development, focusing on the regions surrounding the University Park campus and Commonwealth Campuses;

-- Embedding student career success in the curriculum and advising; and

-- Advancing career readiness through the Career Center.

Barron noted that the University has many strengths to leverage, in particular its research funding, a longstanding tradition of research innovation, the nationally regarded Smeal College of Business and Career Services Center, and Outreach programs that support small-business and entrepreneurial ventures among faculty and students. Extending these programs beyond their current limits can reinforce a University-wide culture that supports a network of innovation across all colleges and campuses.

“We need to do more than just keep the doors open to innovation,” Barron said. “We need deliberate strategies to promote economic development and a culture that rewards entrepreneurship.”

He noted several options for encouraging this mindset, citing the College of Arts and Architecture’s recent establishment of a professor in arts entrepreneurship. The strategic hiring of professors of practice in every college who have experience developing products and businesses is one avenue, as is the possibility of opening the Smeal College of Business to other majors, as well as the creation of partnerships and funding to support faculty and student mentorships.

Barron shared several ideas to promote patents, licensing and start-ups to accelerate commercialization and inspire investors. They include the establishment of foundations and the identification of other funding sources that help finance innovation and green-light student companies. Such student support exists in some but not all colleges, he said. In addition, the University could incentivize faculty and staff for their entrepreneurship through a reward structure.

The University could invest in innovation in other ways, Barron said. Hosting competitions, such as the College of Information Sciences and Technology’s annual Start-Up Week, could entice investor interest in faculty and University-owned intellectual property. Creating collaborative incubator spaces to house individuals and groups pursuing start-ups could foster space for mentorship at various levels of business development for a reasonable lease cost. Seeking out partnerships and funding from the Commonwealth, regional chambers of commerce and corporate sources could sustain and grow these efforts as well.

Ensuring student career success isn’t a simple prospect, given that students are free to choose their areas of study, and predicting openings in the job market years in advance isn’t a simple prospect. However, one way Penn State can demonstrate its value in this area is by improving its focus on tracking graduates’ success in the workforce. While students are still in the classroom, the University can further instill elements of career success through its advising resources and through its curricula -- requiring competencies such as critical thinking and communication skills.

“We should always encourage students to follow their passion, and connect them with equally passionate faculty and mentors,” Barron said. “What I am suggesting is that if we are driving Penn State’s intellectual property to the market, and we are teaching at the cutting edge, then we will be placing our students into the very careers created by our economic development.”

Economic development and career success are mutually beneficial and complementary goals, Barron said, that benefit and help raise the collective attainments of not only Penn State employees, students and alumni, but also the business communities, government and citizens of Pennsylvania.

In his comments, Barron also referenced News and Notes, a handout provided at the meeting. To download a copy, click here.

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Last Updated September 19, 2014