A group of national leaders seeking to make the United States more globally competitive chose Lehigh for their venue this week when they met to discuss manufacturing and innovation.
“Leveraging the Talent Development Process to Drive Innovation,” a two-day conference that began Thursday, is sponsored by the Washington D.C.-based Council on Competitiveness, the Allentown, Pa.-based company Air Products, and Lehigh.
“Lehigh is one of our nation’s preeminent centers of learning, innovation and planning for the future,” Deborah L. Wince-Smith, president and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness, said Thursday.
“I have been very struck by the fact that the focus on STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] education here is embedded alongside a focus on the classics,” said Wince-Smith. “We need engineers who think like artists, and artists who think like engineers.”
The Council on Competitiveness brings CEOs, university presidents and labor leaders together to identify ways of improving America’s competitiveness in global industry and to generate innovative public policy solutions. Lehigh has been involved with the Council since its inception in 1986.
“Bridging theory and practice”
The conference was co-hosted by Lehigh President Alice P. Gast and John E. McGlade ‘76, president and CEO of Air Products and a member of Lehigh’s board of trustees. Both serve on the executive committee of the Council on Competitiveness.
“At Lehigh we excel at challenging students to take on hard problems, to innovate, to create and to take risks,” Gast said in her welcoming remarks. “We believe we need more of this kind of education, the hands-on bridging of theory and practice. We are energized by our mission and excited to co-host this forum.”
Gast, McGlade and Wince-Smith introduced five presentations on topics related to America’s standing as a world leader in innovation. (For a complete list of Thursday’s and Friday’s presentations, click here.)
One of the speakers, Vincent A. Forlenza ‘75, discussed the importance of preparation and education in America’s global standing in a presentation titled “Talent, Development and Global Market Competitiveness.” Forlenza, the president and CEO of Beckton Dickinson, is also a member of Lehigh’s board of trustees.
His sentiments were echoed by McGlade.
“It is important to note that we have the best higher education educational system in the world,” McGlade said in his opening remarks. “We must recognize the need to reinvest in innovation, and we must work together to make the changes in curriculum at all levels that allow us to continue to develop the most skilled workforce in the world.”
An appropriate venue
In her comments Thursday, Gast said Lehigh was a “particularly appropriate venue” for a meeting of the Council on Competitiveness.
“Lehigh was founded in 1865 to create an educated workforce to rebuild the nation,” Gast said. “This is just what we need again today—an educated workforce that will drive our nation forward with true, sustainable progress.”
After a panel discussion on Thursday that featured the five presenters, the conference attendees broke out into sessions to continue discussing innovation. One session was led by Todd A. Watkins, the Arthur F. Searing Professor of Economics and director of Lehigh’s Dexter F. Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, with the participation of Lehigh students.
Discussions on innovation and on strengthening American industry continued Friday at the conference.
Brenda Dann-Messier, assistant secretary for Vocational and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, gave a keynote speech outlining four core principles needed to transform career and technical education:
• Alignment between educators and the labor market to equip students with the skills to meet demands
• Collaboration among secondary and postsecondary institutions, employers, and industry partners to improve the quality of career and technical education
• Accountability for improving academic outcomes
• Increased focus on innovative solutions to policy issues and educational challenges.
“Our goal is for America to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020,” said Dann-Messier, who was appointed to her job in 2009 and is the first person to hold that position.
Dann-Messier, who oversees 11 grant programs that receive $1.9 billion in total annual funding, emphasized the importance of technical education at all levels of schooling, and said the shortage of skilled talent threatens America’s long-term economic well-being.
“Strong partnerships are central to the effort to improve education and increase innovation,” she said. “If we as a nation are to meet these challenges, we must stand together.”
Friday’s sessions included several presentations on innovation and technology, including a talk by Tim Marks ’04, president of Ecotech Marine, titled “Crossing the Bridge from School to Start-up.”
Photos by Li Wang