Podcast transcript: The impact of changing technology on academia

By Sophia Jin

We often talk about bridging the gap between industry and academia, but how can we ensure a successful collaboration between the two? How can academia keep up as technology in industry continues to rapidly evolve? And how can academia produce tech-passionate students that industry so deeply needs?

In this episode of “Innovation in the Classroom,” our host Dora Smith addresses these questions with Tim Simpson, a Paul Morrow Professor of Engineering Design and Manufacturing at Pennsylvania State University. Tim and his students have worked with a diversified list of hundreds of companies on up to 600 projects. Their recent work includes finding ways to preserve the aviation ecosystem.

In this episode, Dora and Tim discuss:

  • How evolving technology has changed academia
  • What Tim does to stay connected to the industry while in academia
  • How academia matches the industry’s quick pace
  • Tim’s experience collaborating with industry
  • Tim’s current work with NASA
  • Tim’s experience working in academia during the height of the pandemic
Tim Simpson quote: "With the pace of change in technology, we're going to get left behind as a university if we don't figure out how to expedite some of our processes"

Tune in to the full episode to learn more about Tim’s thoughts on how academia can collaborate with industry!

Connect with Tim



Podcast transcript

Dora:  Welcome to Innovation In The Classroom by the Siemens Empowers Education Team. I’m Dora Smith.

We often talk about bridging the gap between industry and academia. For universities, this means being able to form mutually-beneficial relationships with industry partners in a bid to expose students to meaningful industry experiences.

Today’s guest, Tim Simpson, is no stranger to these kinds of collaborations. A Paul Morrow Professor of Engineering Design and Manufacturing at the Pennsylvania State University, Tim and his students have worked with a diversified list of hundreds of companies, on up to 600 projects. More recent work has ranged from finding ways to preserve the aviation ecosystem to the 3D-printing of face shields and other PPE during the height of the pandemic.

In this episode, Tim walks me through his experience dealing with industry and shares how he’s been able to form worthwhile relationships with companies amidst the occasional challenges that come when blending industry and academia. He also expands on some of the collaborations him and his students have been a part of and his takeaways from these experiences. 

Tim: In terms of innovation in the classroom, I had students that were in my class and former students that had 3D printers, and when they heard about this, they were all like, how can I help? So then we set up a whole, again, not only supply chain from the companies, but we had a whole from the student side, where they were, that had 3D printers and other grad students, like, took the 3D printers out of the lab, right before they closed everything down. So they borrowed them. Probably shouldn’t say that. But anyway, but now anytime we had a request for oh, I need to, you know, I need 100 of these or 50 of these or whatever. We can have students immediately they’d be like, yep, I can help out with that check and created a whole distribution network to get things. Oh, we need this at Hershey, okay, which student is closest to Hershey? Now that he’s at home? Okay, yep, print them out and deliver them. And here’s the drop off point sort of thing.

Dora: Multidisciplinary collaborations, evolving technology, and changing industry standards can lead to a professor gaining several different layers of experience over their career. Tim told me a bit about his journey at Penn State and what led him to where he is today. 

Tim: I’ve been at Penn State almost 25 years now, split between mechanical engineering and industrial engineering, so my background is more on the product design development side. But last 10 years or so, now, deep diving into 3D printing and additive didn’t realize how deep the rabbit hole was going to go there, shared with students about how to use 3D printing for product design and development. But now, it’s a transformative technology that I think is disrupting and changing a lot of the way of how things are made and how things are designed.  I have sort of been trying to understand what are those implications? And then what are those implications from working with companies? And then how do we bring that back in the classroom to prepare students for the workforce?

Dora: As I just mentioned, evolving technology has seen academia change in tandem. I asked Tim if he’d experienced something similar during his career at Penn State. 

Tim: It’s been very interesting, being in a university environment for 25 years, certainly the wave of digital innovation via iPhones and iPads and such, to sort of where we are now. I think it’s becoming pivotal in the sense. The notion that, we the university is the center of the knowledge universe, right? Is changing to the extent that students are learning from YouTube online, they’re doing flipped classrooms in kindergarten. And so their expectations when they come to college are quite different from what they’ve been in the past. And so I think it has really been a shift in sort of what is your role as a faculty member? What are you doing, trying to do, from a knowledge dissemination standpoint, to a learning standpoint? If I had to say it.

Dora: If we’re discussing digital innovation and the role that it plays in academia, we of course need to talk about industry. Afterall, with it being the end goal for many students, it’s imperative that academia is as accurate a reflection of industry as possible. Tim spoke to me about how he, as a professor, stays plugged in and engaged with industry. 

Tim: So my research in sort of product design and development, I’ve always tried to what are methods and tools to help designers and engineers make better decisions. And so I’ve always felt that to verify and validate that, I need to be out talking to engineers and companies. And so initially, that was through workshops and things where I go into a company and share this or that and then get feedback on it. At one point, I had the opportunity to run our senior capstone design program. So now I’m out trying to bring companies back into the classroom via projects for students. And, you know, over the course of six or seven years that I ran that, you’re talking to hundreds of different companies coming up with somewhere between five and six-hundred different projects that we had to scope and identify, right, so I sort of joked about, you know, using that as a chance to work on my industry game, and in doing so I became much more conversant with what does industry care about what do they look for, why would they work with university projects, etc, that now that I’m in this additive space, I am much abler and much more easily to articulate what are the benefits of the work we’re doing to a company, that now interests them. Do they A: want to talk more and B: want to work with us on a project? And so now we’ve been able to create sort of a virtuous cycle where we work with companies on projects, because we were fortunate to have some state of the art equipment here. But every engagement leads to three new research projects that then you go out and, you know, share that with companies to then get, you know, get the next round of interest. So throughout my career, trying to A: put myself out there to B: engage and interact with companies both to test my ideas, but also make sure that what I’m doing is relevant to them at the end of the day.

Dora: Working with industry does seem to be the answer to adequately preparing students for “the real world”. But it doesn’t come without its challenges. For example, how does academia match industry’s quick pace when it’s used to moving at a much slower speed?

Tim: I think the big, the usual hiccups that you run into as you’re working with companies at a university environment, right? They don’t operate on semesters, trying to align something relative to, when do I have a student available? Or when’s a project going to be available? They’re on quarters and fiscal years and budget planning happens a lot earlier than you think, right. And so the thought that, oh, companies don’t have millions of dollars sitting around for R&D, that they’re just waiting to look for good ideas. You gotta meet people, you got to understand where they’re heading, you got to get in, you know, get in the budget cycle, you got to time it. And I think faculty, I think we get spoiled from, say NSF and some of these government agencies, which are great for funding, basic research and stuff, but then we have a lot of flexibility. And when does it start? And what’s the outcome? And, you know, what are my milestones and deliverables? And oh, I can delay that a bit to start it in the fall when my student is here. Versus companies, I’ve got money now that I need to spend, and I need an answer in three to six months or whatever, versus a year. So it is a different mindset, it is a different game, there are different rules that you got to figure out whether you want to play them or not.  

Dora: So with milestones, deliverables, and a limited amount of flexibility, how have Tim and his students managed to make collaborations with industry work?  

Tim: I think we have been fortunate. Again, hindsight is 2020, right? You know, I wish I had planned it sooner. But in our lab within Sim 3D, that’s our additive lab, we have faculty and students, but we also have full time technicians and researchers. And so now what I found is that I can pull in so if, you know, if I need to start a project sooner, or do something shorter, I can go in and get a research staff and get his or her help on a project and not have to do the usual cycle, or if it’s a shorter term thing. Or the other thing that I’ve done in terms of bringing in a classroom, I now work with a lot more undergrads than I did previously. Because what I found is that if I find a first year student or a sophomore interested in, if they’re a US citizen interested in CAD or 3D printing, I’ll pay them out of my own wallet if I have to, because they’re such rare, and a lot of the work we do is DOD and defense related, right? So I need US citizens. But what I’m finding is, if I get them involved with wage payroll, a couple hours here, a couple hours there, they’re shadowing a grad student. If we work with those students over the course, or two or three years, by the time they’re seniors, they can manage and run a project, they know how to run a software program. And so now I can have an undergrad that’s basically running a research project at a fraction of the cost on his or her time, over the summer, whatever. That’s good for the students, it’s good for the company, it saves money. It’s just it’s win, win, win win. But it takes a while to get that ramp up because you’re not just going to let a freshman who’s come in or a sophomore off and running, but we’ve got a good Honors Program, right. So I can start finding students early on getting them accustomed to what is research who are the equipment this than the other so that by the time junior senior year, they’re running a project and most of the times those companies want to hire those students right away. So it becomes a direct pipeline for talent for each of those companies.

Dora: Over his career at Penn State, Tim and his students have worked with hundreds of different companies on between five- and six-hundred different projects. Numbers like these surely breed variety and I asked Tim why it was important to collaborate across industries, and what that experience has looked like for him so far. 

Tim: The Capstone program that I ran, it’s called our Learning Factory. When I took over it was primarily in mechanical engineering and manufacturing focused in terms of projects. Go to an automotive company, an aerospace company, right, and a design this widget, test that, those sorts of things. There was a strong interest at the time in how do we expand other departments that want to provide a similar hands-on experience for their students, but a computer science student doesn’t need to necessarily learn how to use a mill or a lathe, right, and cut metal. You know, we had to figure out what’s sort of the equivalent hands-on for a computer science student, for a biomedical student, for this and that, an aerospace student, right? How does that then fit into their curriculum? And where and how can industry tap into that, that gives them a meaningful, realistic and engaging educational experience? That was sort of step one. The second step then was companies realizing the company’s not so much by industry, but sort of by size and maturity, a different thing. So a large aerospace or automotive company at the end of the day, they’re looking at doing a project, they’re looking to hire the best two or three students off of the team. So it’s a very different sort of focus, that project is much more a recruiting tool. But uh, you know, you make it an engaging recruiting tool in the end versus if you’re working now with, say, a startup or an early stage company, they’re much more interested in, you know, what, what is the latest 3D printing technology to then help me with this? Or how do I think about that, or I need a, I need a proof of concept or a prototype in 15 weeks. And so the outcome and hardware is different for those projects and customers. But at the same time, these are students, this is an educational experience, this is not a contract, you know, those sorts of things. So you gotta be careful managing expectations of all of those companies, you know, these students are not your workforce for a semester, right? And so you got to protect the students at the same time, and you got to manage expectations for company, but hopefully you can find and usually this is where I spend a lot of my time as director, is really what is that middle ground, that sweet spot where you’re both gonna get something useful out of this without overextending or over exerting either party?

Dora: We’ve just heard how industry can meet student demand, but what about students meeting industry demand? I asked Tim what companies were looking for in terms of student recruitment and how those demands varied depending on the type of company. For example, is a start-up looking for the same thing as an established corporation? And how does this all tie in with the overall student experience?

Tim: The entrepreneurial mindset certainly is a bit different. If a student wants to go that route, start his or her own company, or be part of a small company, I think, you know, invariably, when you’re in a smaller company, right, you’ve got more roles and responsibilities, you don’t have hundreds of electrical engineers there to do the electrical engineering jobs. It’s you and three other people, and somebody’s got to get it done. So you’ve got to be more adaptive, more responsive, more open in your thinking when you go that route versus another. I think that was one of the things that was interesting as we got better working across different departments. So back to my earlier comments, when an aerospace or an automotive company comes in and is looking for, hey, I want to hire mechanical engineers, it’s a mechanical engineering project, versus, you know, a startup or an entrepreneur would come in and say, oh, well, I’m trying to build this widget to show this and demonstrate that. Well, now I need students across mechanical, industrial, electrical, whatever. And so you now have a very interdisciplinary multidisciplinary team. And so those students, just from the nature of that project, are gonna get more exposure to working across disciplines, having to learn how to span boundaries, and talk different languages, than if I’m just working on designing this bracket and testing it for an automotive company. And so a lot of students that would seek that out, so our program now, of the twenty hundred and fifty projects, seventy-five percent of those had at least two disciplines on it. And you know, over half of them had three or more disciplines, as we, as we figured out what was that hands on experience for those other disciplines to come together? And so students could now work for a small, and we saw that students would be like, oh, well, yeah, I thought I wanted to go work for big company, but oh, here’s this little startup that I can get involved, and I meet the owner and the three other people, and now they feel they can make an impact much more quickly in a smaller company, and some students really liked that. And others didn’t. Right. So it became sort of a way of dipping your toes in the water. I’d say most internships were traditional large companies. Here’s a way to sort of dip my toes into this startup world, this entrepreneurial world, this small company world and see, do I like that? Or do I enjoy sort of having a place to hide right, among others? And so some indirect benefits of those types of experiences.

Dora: The great thing about offering variety to students when it comes to working on these projects is that it can point them in the right direction in terms of their careers. They get to experience working for differing companies firsthand and, with any luck, hone in on where their passions lie. 

Tim: I think you definitely see that. Students want to go design jet engines for company X, right? So everything I’m gonna do, my courses, my interns, there’s all all geared toward that. I’m gonna pick the project to do that. I think some other students are, are at the other end of that. Which is hey, I’m majoring in mechanical, as we sort of tell and remind students now, a degree is not your career, right? So even though you got a degree in mechanical engineering, your career could be anywhere. And so use these in-classroom experiences, project experiences to explore not only looking for what you might like, but also of course, ruling out what you don’t like. And so it becomes now, hey, and that’s what I advise to, you know, freshman, sophomore years like, you don’t need to know where you’re going now. But pick things that you think would interest you. And then when you’re done with that internship or that project make sure to reflect on it and understand it, did you like it or not? Because knowing where you don’t want to go is just as helpful as knowing where you would like to go.

Dora: Veering away from his work at Penn State, I asked Tim about another project he’s working on in the world of space.

Tim: I’ve got a cool new opportunity this year, actually working with NASA, part of their convert to complex systems design group. So we have an IPA, I’m a sort of on loan from Penn State half of my time to work with NASA, trying to help explore this one project around the health and wellness of the aviation ecosystem. If you think about it, between commercial airline, civilian, obviously defense, but now it’s electric, aircraft, drone delivery and packages– the skies are getting crowded quick. And so this team at NASA is trying to take a look at that, understand what are the challenges in that problem? How wicked is it? And then what role if any, should NASA and others be playing in that regard? So if you think about it, FAA, for example, is policy and regulatory, and those aspects, they do research as well. The Boeings and others are commercial interest and stuff there, you’ve got all these startups going on. But who is looking across like the whole supply chain, right? And do we have enough materials for all the batteries that our drones and electric airplanes are going to need, right? Who’s coordinating the chargers for this, that and the other, not to mention the better, we need more aerodynamic, we need lighter weight, new regulations around drones flying overhead. If drones are flying down the highway to deliver packages, right? What safety requirements if they fall out of the sky, and heaven forbid, hit somebody or bounce on a car or bounce on the sidewalk. So it’s early, but things are changing a lot. And I don’t know whether we’ll get to the Jetsons in the future, but certainly the skies are gonna get a lot more crowded, and it’d be good to know that somebody’s thinking about making sure everybody is safe, and things are operating effectively.

Dora: As Tim mentioned, factors like increased airplane and drone presence, and even, potentially in the future, flying cars, make maintaining the health and wellness of the aviation ecosystem paramount. He went on to explain how he got involved in this kind of work.

Tim: There is a group called this Convergent Aeronautics Solutions, CAS. And so they’re trying to be more innovative within NASA. So you can imagine a large government agency and those aspects.I’ll need to be careful what I say and don’t say, but how can we be more innovative? If you think about when NASA started over 100 years ago, it was to help the fledgling aviation industry, right? The Wright brothers had just figured out how to fly and we didn’t have the companies now. So NASA at the time, was very instrumental in helping launch that industry and the success of it, I think, now, here we are 100, late 100 years later, right. Now we’ve got all sorts of new things that are gonna be flying, what’s called under the rubric of advanced air mobility, so what does the future of aviation look like? How ready is our supply chain not only in getting customers and people where they need to be, but for delivering packages and parts and those sorts of things. The team had already started thinking about this, recognized this is an important area.  A good friend of mine that I was talking with was at NASA, I was telling her about sort of the supply chain issues during the pandemic that we faced. I ended up leading a team of almost four hundred People at Penn State, trying to make sure that the supply chain and materials are ready for PPE and for keeping our healthcare workers safe. And it was like, Oh, hey, how would you like to think about that for the US in terms of aviation? And I said, okay, yeah, let’s try see what it is.

Dora: With human activity increasing in the skies, it’s no secret that the work that Tim is doing with NASA is important. To fully understand why, I asked him to put it into context. 

Tim: There are other projects sort of already underway that are looking at things like, if drones are flying in between or around buildings now, right? How do we account for updraft and wind and all of these sorts of things because there’s no there’s no good rules or guidelines for that., We know how close in space buildings are to the sidewalk so that the wind doesn’t, flip your umbrella. But if I want to land a drone with a 20-pound package on the roof. Yeah, good luck, right? Well, who, who studies that? How do you simulate it? How do you model it? Let alone you know, test that stuff in a safe environment. here’s all sorts of other elements there. The timing of this, the supply chain one relative to when I was coming on board, and my background, those two sort of connected well, but I’m certainly talking to a lot of these other program leads as well. You can simulate it right. But then how do we get the data to validate that?  Now we need sensors on buildings to capture the wind patterns to do that, oh, well, who? Who does that? Is it the architect? Is it the building designer? It turns out, NASA also has one of the biggest, if not the biggest wind tunnel test facility in the country, in Armstrong, which is where it could test a whole space shuttle. So it’s like, let’s build some small scale cities and put it in there. I can’t wait to walk through that one during a future trip.

Dora: So if we were to tie this back to academia, how can students gain exposure to, and benefit from, the work that Tim is doing?  

Tim: From an education standpoint,, my goodness, this is opening up my eyes to so many different things and perspectives. You know, we just launched a new law policy and engineering program at Penn State, right. And this is all about how the law and policy and the engineering of these systems interact to make sure that the US supply chain remains effective. I’m talking to my business colleagues supply chain Research Center, how do we pay? You guys have been modeling and analyzing? That’s right, what tools can we apply, how do we scale and scope this big enough, right? I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Let’s go out and connect all these other different things. So in engineering, in business, in law and policy in, you know, even down to the, ties back some of the additive manufacturing side, saying, hey, if I can’t get my parts fast enough, when and where does it make sense to actually print replacement parts to get my plane back safely, or do this or do that? So there’s a whole ‘nother area that could inform future research activities as well.

Dora: Shifting gears once more, I was curious to find out about Tim’s experience working in academia during the height of the pandemic. From previous conversations, I knew that he’d collaborated with schools around the world and brought a unique approach to learning in a virtual environment. I asked him to speak on this a little bit more.

Tim: Being innovative in the classroom and international engagement? I was teaching a 3D printing course, when the pandemic took off and all of a sudden students can’t come back to the classroom. So now, how are we going to do our hands-on lab? I don’t know. I started looking online, and then was seeing in the Czech Republic and of course, in Italy, I remember the Italian guys, they were 3D printing, replacement parts for ventilators. And so now all of a sudden, A: you could do that, but then B: well, what are now the legal implications of that?, a It started creating this conversation. In the Czech Republic, they were sharing now, sort of the maker community is pretty open in terms of design and innovation. So people were starting to share designs for face shields and face masks and things. So I shifted the student project, given COVID, had my students design and develop an idea that could be 3D printed.  So they were working on activities there. Then I was also talking to some of my colleagues down at our College of Medicine saying, are you seeing this, is this coming? What’s going on down there? And they were like, oh, yeah, you know, this is. We’re keeping a close eye on this. We should start trying some of these things.. We should start prototyping just to be ready. So all of a sudden, we’re taking designs that have been developed in Czechoslovakia, in Italy, in Europe, downloading them now. They’ve been shared freely online. We’re downloading those, we’re printing, we’re making our face shields and doing our own prototyping, we’re then making changes and uploading and sharing those and, and that was right at the start of when this sort of all took off. So as things got more and more intense, all of a sudden, this sort of grassroots network of 3D printers and makers that I had just pulled together over email, the senior leadership was like, hey, I hear you got a team in there. We’re saying we’re gonna run short on this. And I think literally that day, we had just made our first prototype. So I replied to the email saying, oh, yeah, I got a team looking into this and here’s a picture of our face mask, and we’ll have our first respirator tomorrow, right. And they were just like, what? So Laura Weiss, Senior VP of research, and I think we talked on Friday, that night, she was like, do you want to leave this thing? And I’m being naive, I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, right. This is a pandemic, who knows what’s up. But so I raised some money internally, we had a website, we had a name, we launched on Monday, hey, here’s this group that’s going to help this, we had a co-lead down in College of Medicine in Hershey. We started every day, we had an hour long call with the doctors, the chief surgeon, oh, now the head of supply chain, that head of procurement gets on and he say like, I can’t get any of this stuff. So we started a list. By the end of the week, we had gone from like 30 people to 150 people, our projects went from like five or six red things to like 40, red things by the end of the week, just simple. Red, green, yellow, spreadsheet right? And then we would meet and talk every day, just what, where do we source this? What can we 3D print? How do we connect that? And then we grew it from there. So that was classroom innovation that connected this, we started sharing our ideas broadly with others across the state, we networked across all the campuses, to Penn State’s 24 campuses across the whole state. So when we were getting calls from hospitals in Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh, or other areas, and a lot of other campuses have already started similar efforts. So we connected them, we put in a whole quality system, we had a whole check to make sure everything was compliant. I had Chief of medical, I had legal, we worked with local companies to then finally, make sure things were GMP compliant. So we had to build out our own supply chain model of all the companies in Pennsylvania that we could work with, and source from and do all of this. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? Created our own network identified companies and sort of figured it out as we went. So most exciting, tiring, exhilarating, 100 days, ever, as a professor at a university, I’ll tell you what.

Dora: Doing all of this on top of his regular day job must have been an intense experience for Tim. I asked him if there was anything he took away from this experience that changed how he taught, and viewed teaching. 

Tim: Yes, I think for me, that was I felt like I was an entrepreneur running my own company, albeit within the safety of a university. That gave me a different perspective and set of experiences to then bring back into my courses, whether it’s in design or 3D printing or talking to supply chain folks or whatever. It’s now connected us with the College of Medicine even more closely, they’re trying to look at can we be doing 3D printed custom implants and medical devices. It’s created a whole network of experiences, insights, that now have transformed how I teach what I teach and then also who and how I’m engaging with others. So it’s been extremely rewarding in that regard and it’s amazing now, because that first 100 days, everybody’s kind of in lockdown, we don’t even know. So there were people I was collaborating with that I never met in person, we’d see each other every day, for an hour on Zoom, this teams or that and it was funny, as things opened back up, I’d be out for a run or at the grocery store, and I’d hear a voice. And I was like, Oh, my gosh, that’s so and so, right? And it’d be like, you became so accustomed to the audio, you know, the differences in voices that it translated in the physical world. And there were people like, Oh, my God, Charlie, you’re my neighbor, that’s you walking a dog, I didn’t even know.. We’ve been working together for three months right? So that was pretty funny. We all went through a shared experience together there, right. And so still when we see each other, and these things, it’s just it bonded us in a way that, we never thought possible, even though we were all remotely on Zoom and Teams and separated, 90 miles apart between State College and in Hershey. So not only the supply chain sort of experience that I had there, because I had to set up a whole logistics and sourcing and procurement and transportation departments, quote, unquote, within that team, find leads and do all this sort of stuff. But the other piece was, it was clear to me now between Zoom and 3D printing and CAD models, we were able to collaborate pretty seamlessly, no matter where we were on those teams, no matter where we were located physically. And so that’s actually one of the other pieces that I’m hoping to look into with NASA, this particular group is spread across four different centers. So Langley, Glenn, Ames and Armstrong on the West Coast, right. And they’ve got makerspaces and engineering design studios, right? How and what can we do?  What can we learn from our experiences that might help them collaborate better across different centers? I’m just starting to have some of those discussions, I got to tour there for, I was up at Glenn a couple of weeks ago and toured their maker Engineering Design Studio. So I’m excited to see where that goes over the coming year as well.

Dora: To start to bring our conversation to a close, I asked Tim if he had any more insightful gems regarding collaborations between industry and academia. Here’s what he had to say.

Tim: Companies now, they need an ROI on their investment, right? So if you’re not able to articulate what’s the value in your work, how’s it going to increase revenues, save costs, you know, do things faster, better, than just because you got a good idea, there’s 100 good ideas out there, right. earning how to differentiate yourself. I think the other thing actually on the conferences and journals, interestingly, and I could share with you so two months ago, my ASME conference, I won sort of this big research award, sort of, but anyway, so as I’m up there, getting this award, and they’re reading out all of my citation counts, and, you know, sort of all these accolades, it sort of dawned on me, given all of the work that I do with companies in industry, it dawned on me there, that those numbers only the people in that room, the other faculty members and grad students, those were the only ones that cared about those numbers, the things that they were bragging about, in terms of helping me win that award. I don’t ever talk about any of those things with the companies that I work with or interact with. I don’t even, when I go and present a workshop or introduce myself, I don’t even talk about how many publications or how many sites or anything because that to companies, that’s, you know, that’s almost like the table stakes of why you’re there. Obviously, you’ve published, obviously, people know your work, otherwise, you’d still be in the lab doing stuff. So it’s all about how have you delivered value through your work and had impact? And so I gave sort of an impromptu, thank you to the audience. And then I challenged everybody at the end of that I started to realize that sort of faculty were in sort of our academics were sort of in our own box, the journal right. Because everything we do is like, get me to that next journal paper to then, you know, repeat the Circle of Life, write proposals to get money to fund students, to do research to put, you know, to write a journal paper, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. So I challenged everybody to think outside the journal in terms of the impact that you want to have. So this ties to that sort of, the only way to disseminate knowledge is through conference insurance. Well, companies don’t read those, there’s too many, and they don’t have time. And most of those are behind a paywall. So you need other channels to get out there. And so, you know, I just sort of off my gut said think outside the journal. And then I had over a dozen people that afternoon come up to me talking about their impact that they couldn’t find a way to publish it, or there was something they were excited about, that they couldn’t talk about in the regular channels. And so, as I was flying back home, I got on Google on like, think outside the journal, think outside the journal, nobody, nobody had done any of that, plenty to think outside the box. So I went on substack. And I started writing a blog monthly blog called Think Outside the Journal that is going to share the sorts of stories and how to have an impact beyond, you know, that next journal paper.

Dora: Perhaps the most important part of collaboration is communication. Industry should constantly check-in with academia to see what’s needed from them and vice-versa. To finish our conversation, Tim eloquently explained why this is so important.

Tim: I think with the knowledge that is now out there and available for students to get and tap into, right, through all these other platforms and everything else. I think the classrooms and the professors that are going to shine and or differentiate themselves are going to be ones that can engage meaningfully with those companies to create, you know, realistic real-world experiences, that’s going to enrich that learning environment. If all I’m doing is lecturing F equals MA and this and that, anybody can get that anywhere on the web nowadays. And so I think we’re at a pivot point here, or at a transition point where we need to start thinking differently about, how are companies, faculty, industry and University working together to train and educate future workforce and even the current workforce, right? How do your employees that didn’t have 3D printing courses, five, let alone ten years ago, they need to learn this stuff, right? Are they going to come back and take 30 credits and get our get our additive manufacturing degree? Maybe, but we need a different engagement there to, to help train and educate folks now more than ever. Back to your earlier point that I didn’t come back to you, but I think the result of that now is the pace of change of technology. And the convergence of it that’s going on, we’re going to get left behind as a university if we don’t figure out how to expedite some of our processes as well. That’s the more scary thing to me. Because even if I teach a course on 3D printing, right for a semester, by the end of that, there’s already at least one or two new hardware and software companies that made you know three lectures irrelevant now. So we have to be more agile in what we’re teaching, how we’re teaching, when we’re teaching, than we’ve done previously. And the world is gonna pass us by. It’s not the big eats the small, right? It’s the fast eat the slow. So if you’re not moving fast, you’re gonna get left behind.

Dora: Thank you to Professor Tim Simpson for taking the time to speak to me about the importance of industry and academia collaboration, and the impressive work he and his students are doing at Penn State. With the abundance of companies they’re working with, and projects they’re working on, I’m sure it’s never a dull moment in the classroom.

Stay tuned to Innovation In The Classroom wherever you do podcasts. I’m Dora Smith. Thanks so much for listening!

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at