Brand Story - How closing the industry-academia gap strengthens education, innovation & Oregon.
In an economy defined by exponential change, how can industries and students prepare for the yet to be imagined landscape of tomorrow? Oregon Institute of Technology’s purpose-driven approach fuels a symbiotic new polytechnic paradigm in which industry and academia come together for future-proof success.
As one of Oregon’s seven public universities with bachelor’s and master’s programs across its multiple campuses — Klamath Falls, Portland-Metro and online — Oregon Institute of Technology (“Oregon Tech”) embraces its role as ‘industry’s university.’
“Defining ourselves as industry’s university is about meeting the needs of society as a whole,” Dr. Lisa Graham explains, vice president of Analytics Engineering at Seeq, and chair of the university’s Board of Trustees. “In many ways, an educational system that is good for industry is also good for students and society. Oregon Tech provides opportunities to our students that we know industry values, and which are aligned with what students are passionate about too.”
Manufacturing engineering students in the lab.
The launch of its Board of Trustees in 2014 and the arrival of president Dr. Nagi Naganathan in 2017 reinvigorated the university’s commitment to industry collaboration in education and applied research.
“Compartmentalized, one-dimensional thinking isn’t relevant going forward,” Dr. Naganathan says. “I believe in professional programs where universities work closely with industry in developing content that is relevant to practice. Each academic program at Oregon Tech has its own industry advisory board who work with faculty regularly to ensure relevant curricula, as needs change over time.”
Being industry-centric, Oregon Tech’s main goal is to produce future-proof professionals who can adapt and excel in a landscape defined by digitalization, new technologies and intersecting fields — whatever that looks like.
“When I graduated in the late ‘70s as a mechanical engineer, I was expected to be good at just machines, gears and pulleys,” Dr. Naganathan says. “Today, graduates need to have more of a holistic outlook. We want our graduates to learn to integrate their majors with complementary skillsets in project management, communication, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship, so they will always have a relevant, high-value degree to be successful in a diverse workplace. Our graduates must be ready not just for their careers, but for life.”
“Because it’s so multidisciplinary and flexible, an Oregon Tech degree is a jumping off point into anything,” Dr. Graham says. “Some industries will disappear, new ones will pop up, but we are teaching people how to adapt and succeed in an ever-changing economy.”
Dr. Nagi Naganathan
One report co-published by Dell Technologies estimates that 85 percent of the jobs of 2030 do not exist yet. Preparing students for an unknown job market requires reshaping styles of teaching, and the role of reinvention within the curricula.
A hands-on, project-based applied learning enterprise from its very beginning more than 70 years ago, Oregon Tech takes industry collaboration to the next level. Whereas academia often emphasizes faculty-initiated research projects (“inside-out”), Oregon Tech conducts industry-driven R&D (“outside-in”) based on companies’ needs, immediately applied “on the floor” to improve an organization’s products and approaches.
Today, the school’s graduates work with an impressive list of well-known industry allies, including Intel, HP, Microsoft, Nike, Daimler, JELD-WEN, Boeing, Providence Health & Services, and Kaiser Permanente, among others.
“As industry’s university, as a polytechnic, it’s more than having career-ready professionals,” Dr. Naganathan says. “We have to be the surrogate labs for industries and their innovation ecosystems, and be progressive in managing the resulting intellectual property.”
This exchange gives industry members access to faculty, and to student researchers who later become ideal recruits requiring little onboarding, working with industry in advanced technologies on actual commercial projects.
Oregon Tech is also a member and the host university for the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center R&D (OMIC R&D) — initiated by Boeing and built on partnerships between manufacturing, higher education and government. Developed to strengthen and grow manufacturing in Oregon and the region, OMIC R&D gives faculty and students the opportunity to work on real-world applied research projects with a growing list of local, national and international industries.
Oregon Tech trains students to be prepared not just for their careers but for their whole lives.
Last year, Oregon Tech established a community clinic in Klamath Falls that treats children on the autism spectrum and with other developmental needs. Oregon Tech’s faculty provide much-needed therapeutic services in this rural community, while their behavior analysis students train as therapists. Nearby, the university’s Oregon Renewable Energy Center secures grants and contracts to solve energy issues, on a unique campus that uses a combination of “off-grid” solar and geo-thermal energy to supply the bulk of its power needs.
The design of Oregon Tech’s new engineering complex in Klamath Falls hints at the school’s values. Set to break ground this summer, it will facilitate collaboration and interdisciplinary work among students, with clear lab walls and makerspaces that promote innovation, risk-taking and entrepreneurship.
So, how can industry and academia prepare for a future landscape they cannot imagine yet? Through true symbiosis built on constant dialogue and recalibration. When executed well, everyone wins — students, universities, companies, Oregonians and the world — today and tomorrow…whatever it holds. And Oregon Tech is determined to be a global polytechnic university leading the way.
A Unique Niche: Industry’s University
Oregon Tech’s polytechnic model:
• Prepares distinctive, career-ready professionals
• Serves as a surrogate lab for industry R&D
• Offers Innovative practice-based degree programs taught by industry-savvy faculty
• Fosters industry-friendly intellectual property protocols favoring outside-in applied research.
This produces high returns all around:
• Oregon Tech enrollment has grown more than 50% in the last decade, because it commands some of the highest returns on investment:
- Average starting salaries of $60,000 on average for graduates
- Job or graduate school placement rate of 97% within six months of completing degree.
Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues. The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.