President Peterson was invited by Texas A&M Qatar as a guest speaker for their Distinguished Lecture Series. He spoke to the university community on Jan. 22, 2012, at their campus in Education City, Qatar.
Creating an Environment that Fosters Innovation
Thank you Mark. As an alum of Texas A&M, it’s a real pleasure to be here and to be able to talk to you this evening. I’m actually a little nervous as I look out at the audience and see a number of folks who worked at Texas A&M when I was there as a PhD student, which makes it feel a little bit like my qualifying exam. None- the-less, I am honored to be here with you today as part of the Texas A&M Distinguished Lecture Series. As Dr. Weichold said, I spent the first portion of my academic career at Texas A&M and I have many fond memories, good friends and academic colleagues who are “Aggies.” I was there for 19 years, from 1981 to 2000.
This evening, I would like to talk to you about innovation: how to encourage innovation in our students and how to leverage the many innovations that are being developed at places like Texas A&M and Georgia Tech. The development of innovative technologies is something that Georgia Tech is very heavily engaged in and has been for some time. As you can imagine, the level of technology available to us has changed dramatically since my early days at A&M. I remember sitting in a department meeting - it was probably 1984, and I raised my hand and suggested that we get a fax machine for the department. At that time, there was only one on campus and it was in the Research Foundation, which was quite a ways from our building.
When I asked the question, the department head responded, “What in the world would we do with one of those?” The same thing holds true today – what in the world would we do with a fax machine today? But within a year we had fax machines on every floor of our building and then, within just a couple of years, fax machines had been replaced with PC’s that all had PDF capability, as well as copy machines that also fax.
The Power of Technology
Today, technology governs almost everything we do and it is changing the way we work as we integrate computers, cell phones, the Internet, social media, and other technologies into our everyday lives. If you think back just a few years – just six or seven years ago, things like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn didn’t exist. And think about how those innovations have changed our lives. And the rate at which new innovations are being developed continues to increase. By the end of 2013, Morgan Stanley expects high-speed wireless Internet-enabled device shipments worldwide to have more than doubled since 2009, just four years earlier.
Pervasive technology is impacting almost every aspect of our daily lives and much of what we do. Recently Val and I went skiing in Colorado, and one of the things I noticed was that the lift tickets we all used to hang on our jackets are no longer used. Remember when you would go through the turnstile at the lift line and someone would scan your lift ticket. Today, they give you a plastic card, the size of a credit card – you put it in your pocket and it automatically records you as you pass through to the lift line. Now that’s not particularly significant – I mean that’s really pretty simple technology, but the thing that is remarkable is that as you go through, they’re collecting information on you: how often you go through, what slopes you are skiing and how long it takes you. A question I asked myself is “What are they doing with all that information?” They know I’m going on black or blue slopes – I’m not on any double black diamond slopes. They can then use that information to better control the number of people they admit each day, the speed, size and location of the lifts and a whole host of other things that can improve customer service and make the experience more enjoyable.
Last night on the way over on the plane, I was reading Newsweek magazine. I read an article about novel ways to predict the onset of flu epidemics around the world. The article indicated that one of the most reliable ways to predict the outbreak of the flu is by simply observing the number of Internet hits on the subject in a particular region of the world. It is more accurate and a better predictor than some of the sophisticated models that have been developed. Simply by using group sourcing technology and monitoring the number of people who are experiencing flu symptoms and then going on the Internet, we can create a highly predictive technique. And that, in and of itself, is something that I find tremendously exciting and very significant – it’s the innovative use of technology that is making all of this possible.
Our world is increasingly global, a trend that has been enabled by technological innovations. When I was at Texas A&M, I never would have imagined a Texas A&M campus in Qatar. Like A&M, Georgia Tech has several international education and research platforms, including Georgia Tech Lorraine, Georgia Tech Singapore, and Georgia Tech Ireland. Dual degree programs have been established with universities in Mexico, China, Korea, Singapore, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, and South Africa.
Today, more than 40 percent of Georgia Tech students have an international experience before they graduate, including work, study or research abroad.
I’ve spent most of my career in higher education, and when I ask a graduating senior “What was your most meaningful college experience?” I have yet to hear one say “It was that thermodynamics class” or “That physics laboratory.” However, many will say, “It was my study abroad experience.” Those students who have participated in an international experience now see the world through a different lens. I think the value of an international experience goes way beyond what a student learns in the classroom. They learn about other cultures, as well as learning to take risks and to be resourceful problem solvers.
Technological innovations have made it possible for research teams to include students and faculty from a campus in Shanghai interacting with a team in Atlanta. One Georgia Tech mechanical engineering student reported on his international plan experience. He worked in a French office in conjunction with a German branch of the company on a contract for Chinese clients. During the course of a normal day, he heard French, English, German, and Mandarin. Within a few years, everyone in the world could have the tools and technology to be connected, partner, and collaborate in a myriad of new and exciting ways.
We tell entering freshmen that by the time they graduate, much of the technology they use as a freshman will be obsolete. In fact, much of what they’re learning, especially the technologies they’re using, will not stand the test of time. Our biggest challenge is not to transfer information, but to create an environment where knowledge can change not only the student, but also the world. We have a tagline that we’ve used for Georgia Tech admissions recruitment: Knowing changes everything. It does.
Preparing Innovators and Leaders
When I became president of Georgia Tech almost three years ago, the first thing I did was to bring together the campus community to develop a 25-year Strategic Plan. During the development of the Strategic Plan, one of the recurring questions was, “How do we best prepare our students to address some of the global challenges we as a society face today and to ensure the quality of our research and educational programs in an increasingly competitive and global job market?” We believe that to do so, we must foster an environment of innovation and creativity, develop critical thinking skills, and mentor students to become the problem solvers and global leaders of tomorrow.
When we started working on the plan nearly three years ago, the overarching goal was to envision what the world, and in particular what the educational environment, might be like in 25 years and to then identify what we needed to do in the next 10-12 months, 3-5 years, and 10-15 years to prepare for that type of environment. The resulting plan is agile and flexible enough to allow us to respond to future changes that we did not and perhaps could not have anticipated, many of which will be directly related to the use of innovative technology.
Our Strategic Plan is posted on Georgia Tech’s website, and is available for viewing for anyone who wants more detailed information. I’ll touch on it briefly this evening. Our five overarching goals are to be among the most highly respected technology-focused learning institutions in the world; to sustain and enhance excellence in scholarship and research; to ensure that innovation, entrepreneurship, and public service are fundamental characteristics of our graduates; to expand our global footprint and influence to ensure we are graduating good global citizens; and to relentlessly pursue institutional effectiveness.
Our commitment to fostering an environment of innovation is woven throughout the plan. For example, one of our goals is to “Ensure That Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Public Service are Fundamental Characteristics of our Graduates.” This has led to the idea of creating an “X-degree,” to allow for flexibility in newly emerging fields.
In higher education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM fields, we many times have a curriculum that is rigorous and offers little flexibility for other areas of study. For a long time, I was concerned that our engineering schools were admitting very bright, creative students and then educating the innovation right out of them. It is especially challenging in engineering because of the large number of required courses. Also, in today’s world we are finding more and more that solutions to some of the grand challenges we face are being discovered at the intersection between traditional disciplines. The X-degree would allow an exceptional student who wants an additional challenge to design his or her degree program. These programs could eventually turn into part of the regular curriculum.
As we explore new options in higher education, we are very aware of the need to preserve the quality of education our graduates receive, and the Georgia Tech brand. As a public university in the University System of Georgia, we are governed by the Chancellor and the Board of Regents, who are responsible for 35 institutions. In addition, we have an advisory board of successful business men and women who provide us advice. We presented the concept of the X-degree to them, and asked if they would personally hire a graduate with one of the new degrees. They said that they would. The qualities they are most looking for in our graduates are problem solving ability, innovation and leadership skills.
New Methods of Teaching
As part of the process of preparing students to be innovators, we must set an example and utilize innovation in the way we prepare our students. The “Universities of the Future” will embrace both new technologies and teaching methods that expand their reach and maximize their effectiveness.
At Tech, we’re creating interdisciplinary research institutes to leverage expertise and resources in support of strategic initiatives, to facilitate collaboration with business and industry, and to foster innovation and global leadership. As part of that effort, in September Georgia launched the Center for 21st Century Universities, or C21U.
Faculty from Management, Public Policy, and Industrial and Systems Engineering are coming together to focus on the role of disruptive technologies, serving as a living laboratory for testing new transformational educational ideas and approaches. We are preparing a new generation, and we need new modes of delivery and new curriculum approaches. C21U is providing us with a living laboratory so that we can experiment and drive an innovative vision of higher education in the twenty-first century. We need to provide students with an opportunity to lead initiatives that will help define our new directions in higher education.
As part of C21U, we have a Massively Open Online Course. It includes 30 universities in 11 countries and 20,000 students. It focuses on education technology, and Tech students can take it for credit. The first MOOC was offered in Canada two years ago, and had 10,000 students.
We are also doing data projects to create a main source for data in higher education. We have a leading edge series to foster innovative, strategic results in higher education, including “dangerous ideas,” and student-led initiatives, a joint class with Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Computing. Because of the IT revolution, a mountain of data has become available. Those who excel will be the ones who develop ways to “mine” the data for various purposes, or analytics to analyze and apply.
In September we dedicated our new Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons on campus that is symbolic of Georgia Tech’s vision to enhance undergraduate education. This 220,000-square-foot building is a resource for every Georgia Tech undergraduate student, as well as for the rest of the Tech community. Because the Clough Commons is linked to the library both physically and intellectually, students are already benefitting from boundless resources in a common enterprise designed to enhance their undergraduate experience in a single location. Who could predict the day would come that we would be archiving as many books as possible to make way for new technologies and to allow more space for collaborative learning and interaction with faculty?
One example of collaborative teaching and learning at Tech is within the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering. They have developed a problem-driven learning method to empower students to be self-directed learners who are fearless in the face of a complex problem. The walls on the problem-driven learning rooms are all whiteboards. The format is informal, flexible, and collaborative. For example, a team was given the challenges of carcinoma of the pancreas, the fourth leading cause of cancer in the U.S.
We are teaching and catalyzing innovation in a vertically integrated projects program. The VIP goal is to foster innovative thinking and entrepreneurial behavior by involving students in challenging projects. We help ensure their success providing time, context, and mentoring. There are large teams of 10 to 20 undergraduate students, along with one to four graduate students, who stay on the project for about three years. For example, one team did a wireless networks infotainment project, which has resulted in an e-stadium that provides real-time information during football games. Industry involvement includes Cisco, National Instruments, and Texas Instruments. Other vertically integrated projects include e-democracy, an election monitoring system, and a team working on new implantable devices for curing diabetes.
A Culture of Innovation
At Georgia Tech, we are committed to preparing students to become innovators and leaders, as well as helping faculty and staff to commercialize their ideas more quickly. We have a pretty successful track record, and we’re building on that success. More than 40 percent of Georgia Tech inventors are either graduate or undergraduate students, and 80 percent of the invention disclosures list at least one student as a co-inventor. Tech students are designing new devices for heart surgery and pneumonia diagnosis. They are traveling across the world to design and install systems to provide clean water in rural villages. We are working to provide even more opportunities to foster innovation for our students.
Innovation and economic development have been a vital part of Georgia Tech’s culture since its founding more than 125 years ago. The Institute was created to solve industry problems. Our overall approach to research is “use inspired,” that is we seek to understand what it would take to solve a problem in the real world and that guides our approach to fundamental research. Maintaining a culture of innovation requires commitment, vision, and partnerships.
Survey of Top U.S. Research Universities
Earlier this month, I participated in a conference on innovation in Washington, D.C. I was part of a panel of presidents and chancellors of American research universities, along with investors, talking about ways to increase the effectiveness of research universities in getting innovations to the marketplace. In preparation for the conference, research universities were asked to participate in a survey to further understand their institution’s current engagement in areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. A little more than 50 of the 200 institutions surveyed responded. Let me share highlights, along with a few examples from Georgia Tech. Most of those responding have a campus-wide approach to innovation, as does Georgia Tech. Seventy-one percent have innovation/entrepreneurship programs available beyond the campus to the local/regional community. About 70 percent of the respondents offer courses aimed at teaching entrepreneurship beyond those offered just to business students. Again, Georgia Tech answered “yes” to both of those questions. Our examples of that are our TI:GER program, which I’ll touch on briefly a bit later, and our School of Public Policy.
Eighty-one percent, including Georgia Tech, provide experiential learning to students in entrepreneurship, innovation, and/or research commercialization. Most have programs that put multidisciplinary teams to work solving real-world challenges. Fifty-one percent monitor startup creation, including Georgia Tech.
About half have activities that provide venues for startup showcases. Georgia Tech does that through our Advanced Technology Development Center, or ATDC Startup Showcase, our InVenture Prize, Flashpoint Demo Day, and some capstone courses. Almost half have an incubator for students and faculty, as does Georgia Tech. Less than half, or 42 percent, have an incubator for community entrepreneurs. Georgia Tech’s technology incubator, ATDC, is widely regarded as one of the best in the U.S.
Only about a fourth, including Georgia Tech, provide a research park for community entrepreneurs. About half, or 54 percent, have a technology commercialization office. Georgia Tech has one. One-fourth have express or expedited licensing procedures for industry, especially small businesses. Georgia Tech offers that through the Georgia Tech Integrated Program for Startups, or GT:IPS.
When asked “Do you have proof of concept funding for students and faculty?” 29 percent said they do, with it being provided from within the university. Twenty-one percent have proof of concept funding from external sources, and 63 percent do not have it. Note that if they have it from internal and external sources, they answered, “yes” to both. Georgia Tech has both internal and external proof of concept funding. When asked “Do you have seed/early stage funding for your students and faculty?” one-fourth said yes, with funding provided from within the university, 19 percent have external funding sources, and 65 percent of those who responded to the survey do not have it. Georgia Tech has both internal and external seed funding.
Georgia Tech has an historic role as a place to support industry. We seek to innovate in the ways we can be more industry facing and industry friendly. We also want to ensure that we make it as seamless as possible for business, industry, and investors to work with Georgia Tech. To maximize efficiency and impact, we’ve aligned the major components of our research functions: the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), and our six colleges. GTRI was created in 1934 and is the original home for research at Tech. EI2 is our economic development center, which has offices throughout the state and supports small to medium size businesses through the Advanced Technology Development Center, or ATDC. ATDC is the nation’s first university-based business incubator and it is widely regarded as one of the best. It has launched more than 75 companies in the last ten years. GTRI, EI2, and the six colleges, along with other Georgia Tech support functions, are aligned around key markets where we have core competencies, such as manufacturing/logistics; biotechnology; information technology; robotics; materials; energy systems; and infrastructure—water, transportation, national security, electronics, and nanotechnology.
We do research to ensure our educational programs are at the leading edge and attract the best faculty and students.
We are also working to ensure that our campus culture is one that supports innovation, entrepreneurship, and public service just as it does teaching and research. We committed to “Innovate in how we incentivize and support commercialization.” That includes continuing to develop the infrastructure that will enable our faculty to perform at the highest levels, from idea generation to commercialization. Our commitment is to help ensure that intellectual property policies and practices at Georgia Tech are as non-restrictive as possible, and that we will provide assistance for companies that wish to engage the Institute and its resources.
One example of bringing all these goals together is our partnership with GE Energy. GE worked with Tech on its new Smart Grid Technology Center of Excellence located in the Atlanta area. It is a $15 million investment that is creating 400 jobs in three years. Through the GE Smart Grid Challenge, master’s level Tech students in business and engineering work with GE engineers to solve real problems. The competition itself seeds disruptive thought and “competitive juices” and the students own the IP – GE has made 16 patent disclosures from the program since it began three years ago.
As part of the strategic vision and plan, Georgia Tech defined an industry facing research strategy focused both on leading-edge research and economic development. Many research universities pursue a linear, sequential flow of discovery-based research to declaration of intellectual property followed by licensing or company formation/spin-out. Georgia Tech pursues a concurrent strategy. Teams of faculty, graduate students, application and economic development experts, and professional staff work together to define and pursue grand challenges, foster early engagement with industry, and accelerate the maturation and transition of technology to the marketplace. It requires a balance between high-risk, discovery-focused research and economic development activities. An example in making it customer friendly for faculty is Georgia Tech’s new Integrated Programs for Start-ups, or GT:IPS. The program supports faculty who wish to create a spinout company. After participating in a training course on business planning, fundraising, and regulatory and policy issues, faculty receive a “right of use” license for Georgia Tech held IP. An innovative aspect was the development of a template and streamlined licensing document.
We are creating interdisciplinary research institutes to leverage expertise and resources in support of strategic initiatives, to facilitate collaboration with business and industry, and to foster innovation and global leadership. Tech is committed to providing the infrastructure needed to facilitate laboratory to market innovation. That includes physical infrastructure to support industry-facing research. An example of that is our new Carbon Neutral Energy Solutions building. The building is designed to research energy efficiency, and the building itself is a study in sustainability. It is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. The laboratory is designed to achieve carbon neutrality with net-zero site energy use and is one of the most sustainably designed research facilities in the country.
Other examples are NEETRAC, the testing service for the electric power industry, the Global Center for Medical Innovation, for biomedical devices, and a state-of-the-art facility for food processing research.
We hope to do something similar for graphene, carbon-based electronics, and bio-inspired materials. These kinds of infrastructures/pilot plants are required to help research universities and industry stay at the cutting edge to accelerate discovery-focused research into useful innovations.
Within the last year we created Flashpoint, a start-up accelerator. It offers seed funding, mentorship, support, and shared workspace. Flashpoint is especially interested in investing in early-stage startups in the technology, medical device, and biotech industries. It has a $1 million fund, and the organization typically provides between $15,000 and $25,000 in funding to the companies accepted into the program. The first demo day earlier this month featured more than a dozen in the graduating class, including Georgia Tech faculty and students.
We are working to provide even more opportunities to foster innovation for our students. The new Georgia Tech Integrated Program for Startups, or GT:IPS, combines a streamlined licensing program with organized support for faculty and student inventor-entrepreneurs. The program includes facilitation and licensing components. The Bio-Impact Commercialization Team, or BCT, is a focused institutional commitment for translational research in biomedicine. TI:GER (Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results) is a unique collaboration between Tech and Emory University Law School that puts together teams of MBA, law, and PhD students to focus on the commercialization of student research. It is nationally recognized for its success in developing entrepreneurs. Ideas to SERVE (I2S) is a competition of ideas where creativity, imagination, and the use of technology are applied innovatively to solve community and social issues and sustain the environment. The program is open to Georgia Tech students and recent alumni.
The InVenture Prize at Georgia Tech is an innovation competition for undergraduate students at the Institute. Students can work independently or in teams to develop and present inventions, which are judged by a panel of experts.
For the past two years the competition's final round has aired live on Georgia Public Broadcasting, and teams have won up to $15,000 for their inventions and a free patent filing by Georgia Tech’s Office of Technology Licensing, valued at approximately $20,000. These students are bright, creative innovators who see the possibilities before them, and graduate with unlimited potential.
Georgia Tech and NASA
We’re doing everything we can to plan for the next generation of discovery and innovation.
This summer I had the privilege of attending NASA’s final space shuttle launch as part of the Johnson Space Center’s Guest Program. I invited my son Keith, who works for a NASA contractor, to accompany me. It was a spectacular event and one very special to us and I’m sure to the estimated one million who attended. It caused me to think back, and to think ahead. I have had the privilege of working in higher education throughout my career, in an environment that challenges students, as well as faculty and staff who design, dream, and envision possibilities. I spent 1981 and 1982 as a visiting research scientist at NASA-Johnson Space Center in Houston. I learned a great deal, but the most important thing I took from that experience was inspiration.
While I was there, Apollo Astronaut John Young, a Georgia Tech alumnus, served as commander of the first space shuttle mission. From John Young to Dr. Sandy Magnus, a mission specialist and one of the “final four” on STS-135, Georgia Tech has been there every step of the way. Tech has had 14 shuttle astronauts to participate in the program, as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of engineers, scientists and administrators.
This spring Georgia Tech was privileged to host the Space Shuttle Symposium, joined by students from around the country, leaders from the aerospace industry, space shuttle commanders and astronauts, other NASA leaders, and scientists from around the world. While we celebrated the Space Shuttle program, we are also looking to the frontiers ahead of us.
Thank you for inviting me to share with you today, and for being such an attentive audience.