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Corning Scientist Nick Smith talks with MCL Staff Scientist Vince Bojan in the XPS Lab in Penn State’s Millennium Science Complex. Photo: Walt Mills

In 2017, MRI and Penn State began piloting a new program aimed to support the further development of strategic collaboration with industry. This program, dubbed the Visiting Industry Representative (VIR) Program, is offered to industry partners, and enables a full-time company representative to maintain an on-campus presence, with the goal of developing stronger and deeper connections.  This arrangement brings significant mutual value to both Penn State and its industry partners, including (but not limited to): (1) identification of research topics of mutual interest and new sponsored research programs, (2) broader connections to research faculty and facilities/services across the University, (3) increased awareness and usage of Penn State’s executive education and training services, and (4) increased student engagement for educational, professional development, and talent planning purposes.

Working with MRI to help pioneer the VIR program, Corning Incorporated—a high-priority and long-standing strategic partner of Penn State—became the first company to participate.  As its inaugural representative, Dr. Nick Smith was a natural choice for the program, being an alumnus from Carlo Pantano’s research group in MatSE, a PI for ongoing collaboration projects with PSU since 2014, and a frequent user of the Materials Characterization Laboratory.   A full-time Research Associate with Corning Research & Development organization, Nick arranged to split time between Corning’s R&D headquarters in upstate NY, while keeping an office at the Millennium Science Complex, and all while living near Penn State with his family.  Having been an employee of Corning for many years, Nick’s strong connections in the company enables him to maintain a pulse on research activities within the company, and has helped identify a number of strategic collaboration areas of mutual interest.  For PSU, this sustained and personal presence on campus over the past 2 years has resulted in an organic increase in sponsored research projects for Penn State, as well as increased use of university facilities and student/faculty interactions.  For Corning, the partnership has also translated into deeper technical engagement and closer strategic access to exciting research and emerging talent at Penn State.

A selection of some of the activities that have been impacted by the VIR program since 2017 are:

  • New sponsored research projects with individual faculty groups on directed research projects
  • A 3-fold increase in the use of PSU analytical facilities, particularly with MCL and Nanofab
  • A senior faculty member taking sabbatical at Corning, under Corning’s Gordon S. Fulcher Sabbatical program
  • Philanthropic support of 2 graduate students under the Corning Technology Community STEM Fellowship (with Dr. Smith acting as local industry mentor)
  • Support of STEM outreach and graduate student travel for conferences
  • 3 well-attended industry/university mixers to introduce PSU faculty and students to Corning scientists in a casual networking environment

In addition to its VIR commitment, Corning continues to maintain a wide diversity of interactions across campus, including:

  • Membership in the ATOMIC I/UCRC; a collaborative research center on 2D coatings
  • Membership in the Center for Acoustics and Vibration
  • Sponsorship of MRI Safety Olympics, PSU Materials Day, and similar on-campus workshops
  • Materials Research Institute Industry Advisory Board Member
  • Engagement with Penn State’s Learning Factory on sponsored, student engineering projects

To summarize, the benefits of having a Visiting Industry Representative on campus may be a very productive way to engage with our faculty, facilities and research centers.  For more information, contact Dave Fecko at dlf5023@psu.edu or 814-965-6691.