This story by News Editor Gregory Seay originally appeared in the Hartford Business Journal March 12, 2018
The University of Connecticut’s goal to become a world-class research university got another boost recently, emerging as one of two U.S. universities chosen to train a new generation of entrepreneurial engineers steeped in advanced manufacturing.
Connecticut’s flagship university and Georgia Institute of Technology in February were declared recipients of a combined $4 million in federal grants over the next five years from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). They will use the funds to launch a handful of master’s-level “traineeships” in early stage technologies and advanced materials and process technologies in energy-related manufacturing, such as solar, wind and geothermal.
When the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (OEERE) announced the competitive awards, it said both schools’ traineeship curricula and graduates are an attempt to accelerate commercialization of U.S. advanced manufacturing innovation.
The $1.5 million that is UConn’s share of the OEERE grant is but a tiny slice of the $40 million or so annually in federal grants the School of Engineering collects to devise or refine new engineering technologies, said engineering-school Senior Associate Dean Michael Accorsi.
Yet, the potential benefit to UConn and, by extension, Connecticut’s economy from exploiting its prowess at old-school and advanced manufacturing, is what makes the OEERE initiative noteworthy, UConn said.
In short, the state’s and New England’s advanced manufacturing robustness is stymied, they said, by a dearth of visionary engineers capable of translating manufacturing-engineering advancements from the research lab to viable commercial applications.
“There is a lack of skilled professionals to implement the advances in both manufacturing and energy systems into real products,” said mechanical engineer Ugur Pasaogullari, UConn associate professor and interim director of the Center for Clean Energy Engineering.
Pasaogullari and Accorsi said DOE’s goal is to build America’s energy infrastructure for tomorrow using talent and technology.
Along with the accompanying prestige to UConn from being chosen to lead that effort, Accorsi said Connecticut’s aerospace, naval and industrial manufacturers and suppliers will reap benefits, too.
UConn engineering enrollees into the OEERE traineeship program, officials said, will be assigned to intern with one of at least a dozen Connecticut manufacturers that are sponsors of UConn’s engineering-school efforts.
It is also likely those interns, once they graduate, will be hired—and remain in the state—into well-paying jobs at Connecticut aeroparts makers like Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky Aircraft, and Kaman Corp., as well as smaller ones, UConn engineering instructors said.
Moreover, some of those graduates could eventually break away from those employers, to launch their own enterprises, building up more assets, wealth and jobs in this state. UConn already accounts annually for about half of this state’s class of graduating engineers.
Beginning this fall, between five to six pupils will comprise UConn’s first crop of master’s engineering trainees, Accorsi said. UConn’s engineering school numbers about 3,400 undergraduate and graduate students, of which about 1,000 graduate annually.
Advanced manufacturing today covers a wide swath of production technologies and processes, including 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, and its turf Connecticut manufacturers already know well.
According to a 2014 study by the New England Council and accounting-consulting firm Deloitte, the New England region “enjoys a competitively advantaged position with respect to advanced manufacturing, stemming from an intricate network of cross-sector relationships (industry, government and education) that have evolved over time.”
In the same study, Deloitte and the council plumbed 2012 Census Bureau data showing Connecticut at the time leading New England, with 72% of its manufacturing jobs identified as “advanced.”’