Today was quite a day! Raj, one of the 2008 fellows from the US had set me up a fantastic day of meetings. He picked me up at the hotel and drove me to NC State University’s Centennial Campus. He and his colleague talked to me about their work at the Kenan Institute for Science, Engineering and Technology, which includes a pretty impressive programme of fellowships for teachers in North Carolina to develop the teaching of science and maths in schools (though not all fellowships go to science teachers, which is a pretty far-reaching approach – music and art teachers are involved, for example) NC loses 60% of its teachers after 5/6 years, can you imagine! So this is seen partly as a programme for professional development, to try to retain teachers.
We then met with 3 people who do different, but linked things. Firstly there was Amy Lubas who is part of the management of the Centennial Campus, then Billy Houghtelilng from their office of Technology Transfer and Roger Debo of the Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commercialisation Programme. What they are all working on in different ways is the partnership of businesses and the university. The Campus selects its tenants on the basis of how they envisage working with the university – and it must go beyond a tenant/landlord relationship. What exactly depends on the size of the company, but they don’t have any space at the moment so it’s clearly not putting people off! The Tech transfer office works with the patents and licensing – Bayh/Dole issues basically, which my regular readers (haha) will recognise from Washington meetings. I taxed them with the suggestion that universities over-estimate the value of their IP, but they said that their model is to focs very much on commercialisation. To put it simply, they charge the toll after you’ve driven through the tunnel, not before you drive in. The final element was the TEC programme which combines science graduates and MBA students to plan commercialisation of the university’s ideas. A great way of cross-fertilising the scientific and commercial cultures. Fascinating stuff.
After a very nice lunch (fried green tomatoes!) with the Dean of the College of Textiles, the Dean (?) of the Graduate School and the Assistant VC for research, where we talked about all sorts of things, we headed to the Institute of Emerging Issues to talk about the work of another (!) Eisenhower Fellow, Anita Graham-Brown. They are a “think-do tank” which organises an annual forum on an issue that they think is of emerging importance to North Carolina. The latest one was on…da dah…energy! They’re now working on moving it beyond the forum into concrete action.
From there, we went to the North Carolina Museum. Set up a hundred plus years ago to explain North Carolina’s place in the world, it is one of the most interesting and well-done natural history museums I’ve ever been in. Did you know that the Venus Fly-Trap is native to North Carolina?! The exhibits were very open, some were dioramas, some had live fish/turtles/salamanders/snakes whatever. There were things for children, but never straying from the mission of explaining. Also, the museum has a commitment to research and is opening up a new Nature Research Centre which will focus on linking the public with the latest developments in scientific research. A totally brilliant place.
Then we went to the NC Board for Science and Technology, which is the state administration body looking at S&T policy where we got a useful overview of their programmes to support start-ups and so on, as well as their nanotech roadmap.
So quite a full day, followed by another great trip to the movies to see The Band’s Visit, an Israeli film about an Egyptian Police band that gets stranded in a lonely Israeli town. Might not sound like much but if you get a chance to, GO – it is completely brilliant!