By Joe Carley, director of economic development at Indiana University and director of strategic partnerships at the IU Center for Rural Engagement
When it comes to developing a culture of innovation, experts repeat one mantra more than any other: “Proximity matters.” It means that the best ideas flow from putting talented people together in spaces that allow for recurring interaction.
Early in March, Indiana University and NSWC Crane Division took a step toward furthering our collective innovation culture when Crane announced that it would establish a formal presence at Multidisciplinary Engineering and Sciences Hall, or MESH, on the IU Bloomington campus.
The MESH facility — a 207,000-square-foot building from the early 1970s — is being converted into laboratory space for IU’s Intelligent Systems Engineering program, which was launched within the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering in 2016.
Our partners at NSWC Crane were early advocates for the engineering program, and they once again demonstrated support for it by committing to embed their researchers with IU researchers at MESH. There they will share specialized equipment and pursue technologies related to national security.
This is a critical next step in the partnership between IU and Crane. Having Crane researchers working side-by-side with IU researchers will create deeper relationships and more specialized expertise. And the work of these teams has the potential to establish the Indiana Uplands as a national leader in areas of significant interest for the defense community, such as edge computing, secure microelectronics and sensor data fusion.
Crane’s presence at MESH also validates the importance of engineering at IU. Engineering expertise is in high demand nationally. Across the country, major government and corporate partners have located in close proximity to research universities in order to better access the talent and innovative research in university engineering programs. This co-location creates an important reciprocal relationship: partners gain access to cutting-edge research and talent, and in turn, they help attract additional funding, provide jobs for graduates, and help shape universities’ engineering programs to make them even more relevant and productive.
Already, the major investments that Crane has made in developing its talent pipeline have strengthened the relationship between our institutions and created new innovation linkages. Currently, six Crane employees are at various stages of completing a Ph.D. within the Luddy School. And in December, Adam Duncan, a Crane electrical engineer, became the very first doctoral graduate in engineering in IU Bloomington’s history.
We look forward to the positive outcomes that will spring from NSWC Crane researchers working alongside IU researchers on the Bloomington campus. Whatever the benefits will be (and they will be disruptive, innovative and substantial), at their core is both organizations more deeply embracing their roles as catalysts for regional economic growth.