July 19, 2005

New center focuses on technology innovation

by Pete Rosenbery


Dean Dan L. Worrell

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's College of Business and Administration is establishing a center that focuses on technology innovation and uses the talents of faculty and students across the campus.

While the business college will serve as headquarters for The Center for Innovation, the new endeavor will tap the strengths of faculty and students from various degree programs. It also will match companies that have new-product ideas with student teams that need real-world technological innovation ideas for which they can develop commercialization plans.

Nationwide, there is just a "handful" of Centers for Innovations affiliated with universities, said College of Business and Administration Dean Dan L. Worrell.

"Given our global economy and given the potential shifts of economic power in the world, it is vital that our best young minds be focused on creating ideas, products and technology for the future," he said.

Provost and Vice Chancellor John M. Dunn is enthusiastic about the center.

"It provides rich teaching and learning opportunities for faculty and students in several colleges and offers an excellent vehicle to further refine innovative ideas and products developed by talented students and faculty," he said.

Developing interdisciplinary, inter-university and University-industry partnerships designed to foster research, scholarship and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

The center will begin operations this fall. Kay M. Nelson, an associate professor and director of the Center for Information Technology in Management, Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, begins her duties as center director next month.

Private contributions will pay for some of the costs of the center. To date, Carbondale businessman Peter Gregory and Glenn A. Norem, chairman and chief executive officer of eeParts Inc., both SIUC graduates, have made the two largest pledges to the center, Worrell said. A faculty salary line already was in place for the director's position, and no other state funds will be used.

The center will serve as a mechanism for educating students from multiple disciplines in commercialization of innovation, for developing research into innovation, and for regional economic development through promotion of innovation.

The center will initially work with the College of Engineering, College of Science and the School of Law to provide a range of support for new and established educational programs for research, and for conferences and seminars related to innovation. That will not preclude any students or faculty in other colleges who have an interest in providing input, Worrell said.

Developing and commercializing new technology requires expertise from a wide variety of experts, said Worrell. An engineering student, for example, might have technology or a product that has the potential to be patented, but is not as knowledgeable about business plans or legal requirements for obtaining a patent, he said.

The center will bring together these varied disciplines and put together "something more concrete and not just an abstract thought," Worrell said.

Worrell emphasized an important component is the interdisciplinary approach both from within the University and with organizations that are external to SIUC. Developing University-industry collaborative efforts is also possible, he said.

In the first year, up to 50 graduate and undergraduate students will participate in teams and projects of the center, and initially, five to 10 faculty will be involved.

The center will pursue outside grants, Worrell said.

College of Science Dean Jack Parker said the center's development could "play a very important role in the education of entrepreneurial students in the College of Science. It will also lead to important interdisciplinary activities between students and faculty from a number of colleges and, hopefully, business and/or industry."

Law school Dean Peter C. Alexander is a proponent of the project. Attorneys enrolled in the law school's master's in law degree program will participate, he said.

"Interdisciplinary education is a very exciting way for students to learn and I think it is extremely important that we provide SIUC students with cutting-edge knowledge; the Center will help us provide that," he said.

Nelson is an "extraordinarily talented professor and very knowledgeable in this area," he said. "I think we are very fortunate to have her as a member of our faculty."