The 25th anniversary of The University of Akron's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering serves less as a time of reflection and more as a visionary launching point.
Nonetheless, Dean Dr. Stephen Cheng is willing to point to several examples of the way the college has grown since 1988:
- Faculty has evolved from 22 to 40
- Student population in the college has doubled
- Research dollars have quadrupled
Cheng credits, among other things, the multidisciplinary approach to curriculum and research, which was not as common 25 years ago, particularly in the sciences. Chemistry and physics professors, for example, rarely worked together; instead, they were "all in silos," explained Cheng. It's that approach that has helped the college become a world leader and an important contributor to the local economy.
"The vast majority of university patents came from this college," said Cheng.
Those patents translate to dollars and the college's reputation translates to jobs. Cheng says there is a 100% placement rate among graduate students.
"We have never found anybody who cannot find a job," said Cheng. "Instead, may students have a few jobs being offered and don't know which way to go."
Several start-up companies have begun as a result of the research breakthroughs, the most significant of which are those that led to liquid crystal displays, medical devices for angioplasty and electro spinning of polymer fibers.
Now, it's time to put a spin on the focus to attract new researchers, new students and new sources of revenue. Cheng says the basic principles don't change, but they are applied in different ways by stretching more toward biomedical materials, renewable energy, environmental/construction materials and communication materials that could include micro-electronics and optical materials.
"We will not be the followers," said Cheng. "On the other hand, we will truly try to develop new ways to deal with industry, develop new materials and new technologies that can be used in all different areas."
The only way that those goals can be met is if there are students who are not only willing, but those who are academically prepared to meet the rigorous challenges. It's something Cheng talked about in one part of an AkronNewsNow series in 2011: