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Corporate engagement
A one-stop shop for corporate partners
24 October 2019
The Corporate Engagement Team (L-R) Ashley Chan, Brenda Lucas, and Tomalei Vess. Credit: Nate Follmer.

In early 2017, an unlikely group of Eberly College of Science staff members met together for the first time: Ashley Chan (faculty research sponsorship), Brenda Lucas (alumni and development), and Tomalei Vess (undergraduate experiences). They had been separately assigned to increase corporate interactions in their respective areas but saw power in combining efforts to form the Corporate Engagement Team. The combined team is now a one-stop shop for corporations to interact with the college.

“It’s great to see the Eberly College of Science so engaged in building strategic corporate partnerships,” said Neil Sharkey, Penn State’s vice president for research. “Its efforts reflect the value of mutually advantageous work with our colleagues in the private sector. These efforts provide research opportunities for our faculty and expand experiential learning for our students while providing our partners with solutions to their problems and a future talent pool.”

In addition to providing potential employment opportunities for students, industry partners offer students diverse opportunities to learn and engage. Companies work with Office of Science Engagement staff and Eberly Science instructors to co-develop curricula, workshops, seminars, and networking events to prepare the next generation of leaders to be industry ready. The student-centered opportunities engage alumni at various corporations, allowing them to reconnect to the college and give back to the Penn State community.

Private-sector companies also help Eberly researchers achieve broader impact by advancing basic research and development (R&D) concepts, technologies, and policies to the public. For example, Eberly Science researchers currently collaborate with industry to reduce antibiotic use in the Penn State student population, make animal infections easier to diagnose, develop flexible 3D printing, and improve crop sustainability in Africa.

“Corporate engagement is an important component within the foundations of Penn State’s Strategic and Campaign Plans,” said Douglas Cavener, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. Interacting with industry partners supports the Invent Penn State initiative, which focuses on economic development, job creation, and student career success. It also plays a considerable role in the Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence initiative, which aims to create transformative experiences for students and to leverage research expertise to make a bigger impact in achieving global solutions.

In fall 2018, Dean Cavener hosted a Dean’s Advisory Board meeting focused on developing long-term, holistic partnerships that fit within the broader University strategy. With their input, the Corporate Engagement Team has laid the groundwork to build strategic corporate relationships by identifying companies with R&D interests that align closely with the college’s research objectives to strategically foster relationships. Companies with aligning interests will be invited to campus for interactive events, talent development, and research workshops. Incentives are also under consideration for faculty who are willing to put in the time to develop corporate relationships in various research areas.

The Corporate Engagement Team has begun to build partnerships with two companies that have a long-standing history with the college. PPG Industries—a Fortune 500 paint, coatings, and specialty materials company—has contributed funding for undergraduate research training and career support and close to $5 million in laboratory research sponsorship over the past five years. Merck—one of the largest global pharmaceutical companies—employs more than 400 Eberly Science alumni, making them our top corporate partner in college recruitment. Merck has also hosted faculty presenters, sponsored projects, visited campus for research workshops, and held professional development webinars. Eberly Science alumni working at PPG and Merck have helped make connections with these companies possible.

Penn State has since recognized the need for another group like the Eberly Science Corporate Engagement Team at the University level and established the Penn State Corporate Engagement Center (CEC), led by Assistant Vice President for Corporate Relations Melissa Erekson. The center includes personnel who are focused on corporate partnerships on multiple levels: research, recruitment, executive training, and philanthropy. The Eberly Science Corporate Engagement Team will work closely with CEC to broaden existing relationships to include students and faculty from the college. Together, the offices will facilitate a seamless transition for companies that want to work with the University as a whole.

To find out how more about what the Eberly College of Science can offer your company, contact Ashley Chan at alc39@psu.edu (for research-related inquiries), Brenda Lucas at bnl1@psu.edu (for philanthropy-related inquiries), or Tomalei Vess at tjv4@psu.edu (for student-related inquiries).