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Inspiring innovators in STEM to spur 21st century solutions

By Debbie Farris

A multidisciplinary team in the College of Science at Oregon State University has been awarded a $500K grant to implement a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship in Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE). The innovative educational platform—“Research to Innovation to Society”—seeks to develop STEM professionals with the research and leadership skills while cultivating their passion and acumen to innovate.

Specifically, this National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) will pilot and test Lens of the Market® (LoM), a team-based, experiential curriculum at OSU that guides basic scientific research to address market needs and provides students with professional skill development and practice. LoM has been highly successful at OSU’s Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry and will now be scaled across the university.

As the global landscape changes, innovation is becoming a fundamental prerequisite for sustainability that not only embraces the discovery of new ideas, but also the implementation of practical solutions that address societal problems and market demands. The NRT IGE program will address this shifting global landscape by training STEM professionals with the skills to conduct a market validation informed by research while honing their leadership skills. The result will be a winning package of valuable market developers and analysts who are also scientific leaders.

Chemistry Department Head Rich Carter (PI) will lead the NRT IGE project in collaboration with co-PIs Judy Giordan, Professor of Practice in Chemistry; Michelle Dolgos, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Lens of the Market® developer; and Martin Storksdieck, Director of OSU’s Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning.

The investigators will use learning outcomes and evaluation data to determine if this transformative curriculum develops researchers with the desired attributes to contribute to the national STEM agenda. If successful, the pilot program will lay the foundation for institutionalizing this team-based, experiential approach as a new option that can be widely adopted by graduate STEM degree programs across the nation.

“I am thrilled that the NRT IGE program will benefit STEM graduate students at Oregon State,” said Sastry G. Pantula, dean of the College of Science at OSU. “This training creates a unique advantage for our students."

“They will be transformed from excellent scientists to innovative leaders with the entrepreneurial skills to bring their research to market for a healthy people and a healthy planet. It will help us build leaders in science.”

Carter and his team developed the educational platform, “Research to Innovation to Society,” based on Lens of the Market® (LoM). LoM, a national program developed and designed by co-PI Giordan, is copyrighted by the innovation training organization ecosVC. The program helps STEM graduate students develop the skills to direct their research to technologies with business application.

Rich Carter in front of black backdrop

Rich Carter, Head of Chemistry Department

“I could not be more excited by this program and what it means for our students, for science and for OSU. Students need help transitioning from the classroom and the laboratory to industry and a professional life,” said Carter. “And this program provides our STEM graduate students with the knowledge and market analytic aptitude to be successful and career resilient while making a meaningful impact in the world.”

The program works this way: interdisciplinary teams of graduate students will use their graduate research as the basis to explore solutions to market needs that address challenges facing people and the planet. Students will learn how to perform a market analysis on an innovation related to their research and develop research plans informed by that analysis.

The ecosVC team will deliver LoM training in collaboration with partners across OSU to identify industrial scientists with successful track records of STEM commercialization and strong leadership to implement and assess the curriculum.

“This program goes a long way to connect OSU research and innovation to industry and societal needs,” said Brian Wall, Assistant Vice President for Research, Commercialization and Industry Partnering at OSU. “Our students will be better scientists and employees by developing a strong understanding of market opportunities and by applying this knowledge to their research.”

Students will develop networking, communication, data gathering and business analytics skills while also providing a broader societal context for their research.

“This program is all about developing scientists and engineers with the skills and passion to solve challenges through basic research while they are graduate students with funding support,” adds Carter. “The fact that they will be able to alter research that is in progress based on market data without waiting until the end and hope they can get a patent is absolutely extraordinary and is smart science!”

The first cohorts in 2017 will explore the following themes:

  • Drugs for neurodegenerative diseases
  • Protein materials for biotechnology applications
  • Natural products for biomedical applications
  • Optoelectronic materials for energy applications
  • Battery materials for energy applications

The first information sessions are October 13 and November 14.