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U.S. Rep. Matthew Cartwright, Penn State President-elect Neeli Bendapudi, National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, Penn State Scranton Chancellor Marwan Wafa, and Penn State Senior Vice President for Research Lora Weiss, left to right, met at the Scranton campus on April 8 to discuss the University's science education, research and service in northeast Pennsylvania. Credit: Timothy R. Dougherty

Penn State leaders, industry partners share the importance of NSF-supported education and innovation with federal officials

By Amy Gruzesky

Penn State officials met today (April 8) with U.S. Rep. Matthew Cartwright, National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, principles from Schott North America Inc., and regional stakeholders to discuss the impact and statewide reach of NSF-supported research, education and entrepreneurship, as well as technology industry partnerships with Penn State that have taken place regionally.

The goal was to identify opportunities for, and regional entities that would benefit from, NSF-supported education and research to spur economic development through STEM-related technologies (science, technology, engineering and math).

Schott, which employees a number of Penn State alumni, has worked with Penn State Scranton administrators, faculty and students in the past, as well as scientific researchers at Penn State’s Materials Research Institute. After a tour of Schott's facilities, the group convened at the Scranton LaunchBox in South Scranton.

The LaunchBox and Innovation Hub Network is a signature program of Invent Penn State, a commonwealth-wide entrepreneurship initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. The Scranton LaunchBox was established in 2018 and since its inception has assisted more than 60 entrepreneurs, hosted free virtual entrepreneur workshops for close to 100 individuals, and worked with the city of Scranton’s Business Loan to Grant program.

"Breaking new ground in glass technology with fusion energy took a team effort at our facility in Duryea,” said Bill James, vice president of research and development and new ventures at Schott North America. “Federal investments play a key role on that team from funding STEM education programs to making innovations in glass science possible. Those investments also fuel our research partnerships, like our longstanding link with Penn State. Many of our employees are Penn State graduates, which speaks to their leading glass science program. We look forward to the continued commitment from the National Science Foundation to embolden our efforts."

Panchanathan, who accompanied the group on the tour and met with University faculty and administrators at the Scranton campus, including Penn State President-elect Neeli Bendapudi, also spoke with Penn State Scranton faculty currently doing STEM-based research.

“Geographic diversity and unleashing the strengths of communities are major priorities for NSF,” Panchanathan said. “Finding ways NSF can partner with regional entities to supercharge innovation in places like Scranton, is what brings me here today. I believe we can seed ecosystems of innovation everywhere by leveraging the great work already happening in these communities. Great ideas are everywhere, and NSF is committed to finding them, nurturing them, and seeing them become the breakthroughs of the future. We applaud the achievements we witnessed at Schott today and look forward to the outcomes from the LaunchBox initiative.”

Cartwright, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations and chair of the Commerce-Justice Science Subcommittee, was a key participant in the discussions that took place throughout the day, which centered on existing and potential industrial partnerships, burgeoning industries in the Scranton area, the potential for technology startups, and the use of Penn State resources.

“I was proud to join Director Panchanathan from the National Science Foundation today during his visit to Penn State Scranton, Schott and Penn State's LaunchBox initiative,” Cartwright said. “These facilities are leading the way to create the next generation of our science-based, high-tech workforce by providing a pathway from ideas and skills to practice and income. I have been, and will remain a strong advocate for STEM education and workforce development in Congress, and will do all I can to continue to support our entrepreneurs, business accelerators and manufacturers.”

Cartwright represents Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional District, which includes Lackawanna, Wayne and Pike counties, along with portions of Luzerne and Monroe counties, and has been a longtime champion of education and working to bring quality, family-sustaining jobs to northeast Pennsylvania.

“The depth and breadth of Penn State’s research is transitioning into our communities and having meaningful impact. Our partnership with NSF enables continued innovation and discovery and is making a difference in Scranton and across the entire commonwealth,” said Lora Weiss, Penn State senior vice president for Research. “We are delighted to have hosted Congressmen Cartwright and NSF Director Panchanathan and thank them for their ongoing commitment to science and engineering research, education and entrepreneurship.”

“As the local Penn State campus, I would like to see Penn State Scranton at the forefront of promoting STEM opportunities in our region, both in terms of education and research, as well as job creation and economic growth,” said Penn State Scranton Chancellor Marwan Wafa. “We have the resources and the expertise of our world-class faculty and are eager for opportunities to share those with the community.”

Penn State STEM faculty across the state, including Asif ud-Doula, associate professor of physics at Penn State Scranton, have benefited from NSF funding and collaboration, and it is the hope that additional funding can be secured to increase research and economic development in northeast Pennsylvania.

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