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September 24, 2018 Special Series: Building Connecticut's Workforce Pipeline

UConn Tech Park offers new twist to industry-college partnerships

HBJ Photo | Sean Teehan S. Pamir Alpay, executive director of the UConn Innovation Partnership Building at the school's Tech Park in Storrs, showcases a research lab within the building.

Touring the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) at the University of Connecticut Tech Park in Storrs is like taking a peek into the future. A lot of big machines and big ideas.

While the atomic microscopes and supercomputing facilities are the state-of-the-art tools companies and faculty use to design products they hope will change the world, the UConn student assistants represent the future of those employers.

“Almost every school and college at the university has internship programs,” said S. Pamir Alpay, executive director of the UConn IPB/Tech Park. “What we do here is a little bit different.”

The IPB, the Tech Park's inaugural building, is meant to bring top faculty, students and industry partners together in a facility with the best available equipment so they can develop innovative solutions to real-world problems.

The project broke ground in 2015, the same year the state Bond Commission approved $131.5 million for the project. Between construction, equipment and road and site improvements around the building, IPB cost a total of about $170 million, according to UConn.

Industry partners — including Thermo Fisher Scientific, Eversource, United Technologies Corp., Pratt & Whitney, Comcast, Synchrony Financial, Fraunhofer, UTC Aerospace Systems and General Electric — have collectively put in more than $80 million to conduct research at the IPB, according to UConn.

Companies with space in the Tech Park pay fees to use the building and equipment, and for some, that's about as far as their interaction with UConn goes, Alpay said. But many companies also enlist the help of about 70 undergraduate and graduate students — who are vetted by UConn and the companies — per semester, Alpay said.

Unlike traditional internships in which students work as regular, low-level employees, pupils working in the Tech Park collaborate on teams trying to complete specific company projects, Alpay said.

“It's a … project, problem, solution-driven kind of approach that is slightly different than a very open-ended internship that you can get through other opportunities on campus,” Alpay said.

Working on a project trying to build a prototype, or solve a manufacturing problem can showcase a student's talents, and put him or her on track to employment with the company, Alpay said.

“Here we have undergrad students, or grad students start working with the companies in the building, and it naturally progresses to something like … an internship, or a co-op, both at the undergrad and the graduate level,” Alpay said.

One Tech Park company that has been drawing from UConn's student pool is UTC Aerospace Systems out of Windsor Locks, which established its Center for Advanced Materials. There, researchers focus on developing advanced aerospace and defense products.

And at the Eversource Energy Center, students assist in research aimed at mitigating storm hazards, delivering improved reliability, and increasing the resiliency of the electric grid.

Undergrads who have worked on Eversource projects have gone on to be hired for internships and co-ops that put them on track for full-time employment, Alpay said.

“This is a huge investment from the state to the university, and it was established so that academia and industry can work together in one setting on issues that are dear to their hearts,” Alpay said.

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