On February 19 President Peterson participated in a panel discussion on the University of the Future at the AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
University of the Future Panel Discussion
Leadership and Innovation for the Future
With the rapid advances in technology and the many ways these advances influence our lives, the world is looking to places like Georgia Tech to provide leadership in engineering and science and more importantly, in how innovation and commercialization can improve and enhance the well-being of our country and its citizens. It is for this reason that for the past 18 months, the Georgia Tech community has been focused on the development and implementation of a 25-year strategic plan that will position Georgia Tech as the defining Georgia Technological research University of the 21st century. Rather than to allow the future to define what we do, our goal is to be proactive and to “design the future.”
In the process of developing this plan, we examined a number of national and global trends and issues, and I would like to share a few of them with you, along with some of the ways we are addressing them at Georgia Tech. Today, I want to talk about how Technology is changing our lives; the importance of utilizing a transdisciplinary approach when addressing these changes; how we can develop a global focus and ensure that we are educating “good global citizens;” and how we believe that innovation will impact the next generation of young people.
Perhaps the best way to understand the impact of technology on our lives is to look at what our world was like a little more than 25 years ago. In 1984 IBM introduced the first PC—remember the AT or the XT? The same year the first cell phone entered the market, the “Dynatech 8000X” and it was a brick, weighing two pounds, holding a charge for only 30 minutes and selling for nearly $4,000. Today, they are ubiquitous and instead of just talking, people are texting and tweeting, dating and getting married through Facebook. Cell phones, iPods and androids are the principal mode of communication for millions of people all around the world and today, the number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the population of the planet. It was just 20 years ago that the protocol was developed for the World Wide Web, and Google.com was formed just over a dozen years ago.
Fast forward to today, to the Google library project, with the goal of digitizing every book in the English language in a searchable database. By the time the freshmen of today graduate, they will have at their fingertips access to more than 32 million books in a searchable database. Or telepresence—it is now possible to send a three-dimensional holographic image, in real time, anywhere around the world.
It is our role in higher education not only to keep up with these technological advances, but also to develop them, and to prepare our students to know how best to use them—to help them understand how to convert the enormous amount of information available to them today into knowledge, because there is a difference.
Young people today see technology as a huge part of their everyday lives. Last January, the Kaiser Family Foundation released the results of a year-long study of 2,000 students in grades three through twelve—these are eight to seventeen-year-olds! They found that these students spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes each day using entertainment media — that doesn’t count going on the Internet for homework, and it doesn’t count the average 1 hour and 35 minutes a day they spend texting. Because they’re so used to multi-tasking, they are able to cram 10 hours and 45 minutes of media content into their waking hours.
Students in general are entering college “technology savvy,” and it is especially true for those at places like Georgia Tech. Students who have grown up in the digital age are motivating us to re-examine the way we teach, which includes efforts to be both creative and innovative in our instructional methods, course design, and curricula.
Last month we had a winter storm in Atlanta that required that I close the university and cancel classes for three days. Keep in mind I came to Georgia Tech from Colorado and had just returned from the South Pole where the temperature was -40 degrees. I’ve seen bigger snowstorms in early October, and I had just returned from a National Science Board trip to Antarctica. But in Atlanta, we don’t have the equipment to handle the snow as efficiently as other cities that get it more frequently, and safety became an issue. Students were directed to go online to get their assignments. Faculty made assignments on line in real time and a number of professors held “virtual classes” through Skype and Facebook so that the students would not be behind schedule.
We're in a higher education climate where online enrollments are growing at a rate that is as much as ten times the rate of traditional campus enrollments. In December Georgia Tech announced a new Center for 21st Century Universities, or C21U, to focus on the role of disruptive technologies things like “social networking” and innovations like "open courseware," to serve as a living laboratory for the testing of new educational approaches and ideas. It is based in our College of Computing, but includes faculty from Management, Public Policy, and Industrial and Systems Engineering. Our goal is to create and develop a spirit of experimentation among our faculty affiliates, challenging them to be innovative in curricular design, while working with the many other national and international entities engaged in higher education reform.
Today, Georgia Tech, like many other institutions, is involved in a number of transdisciplinary approaches to problem solving and we are beginning to explore ways to include a more flexible approach in education.
As part of our new Strategic Plan, Georgia Tech's academic leadership is exploring an initiative called the “X” College. It grew from a recommendation from students and faculty that Georgia Tech needs to increase student-faculty interaction and allow more flexibility in our curricula. We are moving forward to allow students, with faculty guidance, to compose programs of study that focus on what we call the “grand challenges” facing society today, using knowledge from a wide range of relevant fields. If we had this ten years ago, it might have allowed us to develop a bioinformatics degree program before bioinformatics existed, or a nano/bioengineering degree program before that curriculum was developed.
Julia Kubanek, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Biology, spoke at this conference on Monday about research on antifungal chemicals in tropical seaweeds. She is at the early stage of examining the potential pharmaceutical application of antifungal compounds found in seaweed. One potential application she discussed was the use of these compounds to develop anti-malaria drugs. Working on the project is a collaborative team of researchers from Georgia Tech's Department of Biomedical Engineering and our College of Sciences. It is an example of cross-cutting interdisciplinary research that is characteristic, not only of Georgia Tech, but of many other institutions as well.
Georgia Tech is a leader in innovation, and many of the innovations we have developed have been made possible by bringing together teams of experts from various disciplines. Let me share a couple of examples.
A team at Georgia Tech invented a new device for ACL reconstruction that uses a shape memory polymer for tendon fixation. It is an innovation that allows the surgeon to achieve accurate placement and strong fixation while protecting the tendon graft. The device was approved for use in humans by the FDA and was launched in a limited release last month (Jan. 2011). It is an ongoing collaboration between Georgia Tech and a start-up company, MedShape. The device and the science behind it were developed by a materials scientist, a mechanical engineer, a biologist and an MD with expertise in sports medicine.
In another example, a team of microelectronics engineers and biomedical scientists is working on a way to replace microplates, long used in biomedical research and diagnostic laboratories, with modern microelectronics technology. The new electronic biosensing platform could help realize the dream of personalized medicine by making possible real-time diagnosis, possibly in the physician's office, and helping to select individualized therapeutic approaches.
Discoveries of solutions to grand challenges are increasingly occurring at the interfaces between traditional disciplines, as well as through partnerships with business and industry, and between universities.
One such partnership is the joint program between Georgia Tech and Emory University in Biomedical Engineering. The Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering started less than 15 years ago and today ranks as one of the top two or three programs in the country.
The Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (IBB) was Georgia Tech's initial investment in biotechnology 13 years ago. Bob Nerem was the founding director. Grand challenges in medicine and biology that are the focus of research conducted in IBB range from heart disease and cancer to drug delivery and developmental biology. The IBB is one of the first institutes in the country to develop an interdisciplinary model that combines bioscience and bioengineering, and now has more than 100 faculty members. It is home to a dozen research centers, with joint research projects around the world.
Another important issue that American universities must face is the need to become increasingly global.
The United States has been blessed with many of the world's most outstanding research universities with a track record of excellence. And while we have long been recognized as having the best higher education system in the world, the gap between us and our international competitors is rapidly closing. Though a mandate from Congress, the National Science Board oversees the collection of data to produce Science and Engineering Indicators every two years. As an NSB member, this past year, I participated in the evaluation of these data and the writing of the report.
There is clear evidence that science and engineering research is increasingly becoming an international endeavor. Governments recognize that science and engineering, research and development lead to economic growth, enhance employment, and increase the well-being of their citizens. Because we felt that the data revealed trends that raise important policy concerns, the Engineering and Science Indicators Committee of the NSB produced a companion piece on globalization of science and engineering research to bring it to the attention of the President, Congress and the public. Let me share some of our findings.
- While worldwide public and private R&D expenditures have increased an average of seven percent over the last decade, the real story comes when you look at the data regionally. The rate of growth in the Asia/Pacific region has dramatically out-paced the US average, with the greatest increase coming from China, India and other developing nations.
- Countries of the world are making science and technology national priorities because they see the need to move to a more knowledge-based economy.
- There is an increasing recognition that science and technology have a tremendous impact on the creation of jobs, the meeting global competitiveness challenges and addressing global issues.
This presents new opportunities for collaboration and advances—the challenge is that we must take steps to ensure our nation’s competitive strength.
At Georgia Tech we have a strong international presence. We have several international research and education platforms, dual degree programs with numerous international universities, and more than 120 international agreements with top universities around the world.
We are committed to ensuring that our students understand science and technology in a global context, one that recognizes and appreciates the different social, economic and cultural domains. Today, almost 40 percent of all Georgia Tech students have an international learning experience before graduating. We will continue to expand the number of students who graduate with substantial international experience through work-study, research, and service, with a goal of ensuring that every single student has the opportunity to have a meaningful international experience before graduation.
A number of new programs that connect an international experience with leadership skills are being developed to ensure that we prepare our graduates with career advantages, including firsthand knowledge of international social, political, and economic systems; the ability to assimilate easily into global communities and work environments; and the skills to communicate with confidence in a global context.
Innovation for the Next Generation
Universities have a special role in training the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs. At Georgia Tech, innovation is part of our DNA. It is interesting to note that for 2010, 41 percent of the individuals filing invention disclosures at Georgia Tech were either graduate or undergraduate students. Additionally, 80 percent of the invention disclosures submitted listed at least one student as an inventor.
We pay particular attention to equipping our students, not only with the tools they need to make discoveries, but the skills necessary to turn those discoveries into products—helping them to realize that an idea is not an invention, an invention is not a product, and a product is not a business. We are doing this through programs like our InVenture Prize competition for undergraduate students—a sort of “American Idol for geeks,” highlighting those who “invent” rather than those who “perform.”
Last year's competition drew 300 entries. Not only do the winners receive cash awards (the first and second place finishers win $15,000 and $10,000, respectively); perhaps more importantly, they receive a commitment for Georgia Tech to help them commercialize and license their technologies. Of the eight finalists last year, four have license agreements or patents pending.
In closing, I want to share a powerful example of a faculty member and students working together to make a real difference globally. Dr. David Ku is our Lawrence P. Huang Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship and a Regents’ Professor. Dr. Ku is an MD-PHD with a joint appointment in both Mechanical Engineering and Management.
He was challenged by the head of virology at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a quick, economical way to diagnose pneumonia. Pneumonia is a super infection that is often associated with other diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV, and a quick and accurate diagnosis is often critical. While here in the U.S. we think of pneumonia as a disease that only impacts senior citizens, worldwide, a child dies every 15 seconds due to complications related to this infection—it is in fact the leading cause of death among children around the world.
Professor Ku put this challenge before a team of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering students. They developed a device with valves, actuators, and a microchip that would cost around $250, But Professor Ku sent them back to the drawing board, challenging them to develop a device that could be a “point of care device” that would not need to be administered by a doctor or a nurse and that could quickly help the poorest child in India.
Using some relatively simple fluid dynamic principles, they did it. The new device separates the flow from the upper and lower portion of the lungs, where the infections typically occurs and provides a diagnosis within 30 minutes of testing at a fraction of the cost of their original design. It can be administered by anyone, anywhere in the world and has the potential to save literally millions of lives.
Georgia Tech MBA students are now using it as a test case to develop a triple-bottom-line company for social entrepreneurship, factoring in profitability, and social and environmental good, and a patent is pending.
This is just one example of the way our research universities can make a difference in our world, and a preview of what will is possible by bringing individuals from different backgrounds together to address the many global challenges we as a society face today. Our future lies at the intersection of traditional disciplines and the potential innovation and partnerships.
Our role as educators is continually challenged and we will be judged by how well we can prepare our students to meet the evolving needs of the world around us. There is no room to be a fast-follower. We must lead. We must ask: What has and will continue to differentiate our graduates? How can we strengthen the economy, the nation and the world through our leadership? How can we help prepare our students for a global future?
We have before us today an opportunity to shape the future, not only of our institutions, but also for the generations of students who will pass through the doors of our institutions in the years to come. The students we are educating today will develop a cure for cancer and numerous other debilitating diseases; they will resolve the issues surrounding climate change and clean water; and they will witness interplanetary space travel. We must make sure that we have prepared them well for that environment, one that today we can hardly imagine!