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Watkins suits up for NASA

With new goals and the reality of budget cuts, NASA's future success depends in large part on innovation and adapting industrial and business practices to the demands of an ever-changing technological atmosphere.

And Todd Watkins, associate professor of economics in the College of Business and Economics, is one of 12 experts from industry and academe who are serving on a committee to help improve creativity and innovation with respect to industrial and managerial practices at NASA.

Watkins, whose research is primarily concerned with national technological policy, was delighted to accept his appointment to the National Academies Committee on Innovation Models for Aerospace Technology.

“I am looking forward to my involvement with this impressive and august group,” he says.

Some fellow members of this committee, charged with guiding NASA with respect to its innovation processes, include: Mike Benzakein, a member of the National Academy of Science and Engineering; William Coyne, former senior vice president of research and development at 3M; Duncan Moore, former White House science advisor and now CEO of Infotonics and professor of optical engineering and biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester; and Mark Myers, visiting executive professor of management at the Wharton Business School.

Goals for the year

While there has been much talk in the press about the need for NASA to reinvent itself after the space shuttle Columbia accident, Watkins does not believe the committee’s formation had anything to do with lingering concerns.

“NASA is simply looking for ways to be as creative and innovative as possible given the new budget realities and their evolving mission,” he says.

The National Academies Committee on Innovation Models for Aerospace Technology hopes to accomplish a number of goals over the next year. Among them are:
• Identifying best practices for industrial innovation, particularly in the aerospace area.
• Identifying appropriate industrial technology and innovation management practices for NASA and methods for implementation.
• Identifying barriers to innovation at NASA and possible ways to eliminate them.
• Providing a neutral forum for representatives of firms from different sectors (including firms without prior government contracting experience) to discuss their perceptions of technology development.

The Lehigh edge

Watkins believes that his involvement with Lehigh’s Integrated Product Design program and
his experience working with numerous design teams over the years will aid his ability to contribute to the committee’s efforts.

“My experience here at Lehigh in the IPD program, working with hundreds of design teams over the years, will likely have significant impact on my ability to participate with NASA in a valuable way,” he says.

Watkins believes he was chosen for this distinguished position because of the interdisciplinary focus of his studies and teachings. In addition to his focus on technology policy, Watkins believes his other areas of study—including innovation economics, R&D management, and product design—make him an asset to the team.

In addition, Watkins holds a B.S. in optics from the University of Rochester and both an M.P.P and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from Harvard University. His findings on such topics have been published in such prestigious periodicals as: Science, IEEE Engineering Management Review, Technovation, Governance, Technology Review, and Research Policy. Watkins also has special experience with the aeronautical field as evidenced by his participation as a research team member of the M.I.T. Lean Aircraft Initiative, a consortium of 20 major aerospace companies.

--Caitlin Kinsey

Posted on Tuesday, April 27, 2004

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