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College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering 25th Anniversary Speech

  • Date: 05/09/2013
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: Quaker Square Ballroom
  • Thank you, Stephen, and my thanks to all of you for joining us this evening.

    I also want to acknowledge the many special guests who are with us tonight, including:

    ·       Eric Amis, with United Technologies Research Center

    ·       David Benko, Goodyear R&D fellow

    ·       Georg Böhm, retired Bridgestone VP of research

    ·       State Senator Tom Sawyer of the Ohio 28th District

    ·       Members of the college’s Advancement Council

    ·       Dr. Frank Kelley, the first dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering

    ·       Dr. William Muse, president emeritus of The University of Akron, and former president of Auburn University

    ·       And Ben Ammons, former chairman of our Board of Trustees and a former senior vice president with Bridgestone/Firestone.

    Thank you all for making time to participate in this anniversary observance.

    Tonight we celebrate a quarter century of success and progress for what is arguably the best-known and most highly acclaimed academic unit at The University of Akron and the largest polymer training program in the world.

    In 1998, when I was first asked if I would consider the presidency of The University of Akron, I wanted to know what it was known for and what research strength it possessed.

    The answer then, of course, as it still is, was polymers !!

    Now, lest my words be misconstrued or taken out of context, let me hasten to add that since that time I have been greatly pleased to find many additional areas of excellence throughout this University.

    In fact, one of my principal observations about this institution was that it contained many clusters of excellence that were undervalued and undercelebrated.   

    Some of you may have been here in 1999 when I made the following statements at the Akron Roundtable:

    “In my first year as president of the university - as I visited every college, school and department - I found genuine excellence in every corner. Far more excellence than any university president even has a right to expect - and far more excellence than any of us seems to know about.

    “I found a level of excellence that must be celebrated, both because it is a story of untold benefits to Akron and to Ohio, and because it represents such an outstanding level of excellence that it signals a very clear destiny for our University.

    “A destiny to be nothing less than a full community partner, a partner that continues to define the economic vitality and resurgence of an exceptional city and region.

    “A destiny to lead the world, and I do mean lead the world, in key areas of research such as polymer science and polymer engineering, and to do so in strategic alliances with its corporate colleagues and sister institutions.”

    In short, I found many reasons here to be excited and optimistic, and chief among them were the excellent academic and research capabilities of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.

    Tonight, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of this prestigious college, it is appropriate that we acknowledge and honor the program’s roots, which extend far deeper than a mere quarter century.  Indeed, the story begins beyond the reach of living memory.

    Founded 143 years ago, in 1870, The University of Akron grew up alongside the rubber industry that emerged in Akron in that same decade.  In 1909 it offered the world's first academic program in rubber chemistry and continued to shape its R&D interests alongside those of industry.

    After dinner my colleagues Dr. Muse and Dean Kelley will step forward and share some thoughts with us.  Therefore I will leave the remainder of the story of the college’s formation and early development in their capable hands.

    Instead, I will fast forward, and review:

    the vital partnerships that have emerged because of the college’s reputation for outstanding research and talent development;

    the college’s present circumstances, and;

    where we are heading in the near future.

    Thanks to the good efforts of those who pioneered this college, The University of Akron has the largest and best-known academic center focusing on polymer science and polymer engineering – areas in which we compete more effectively than better-known universities such as MIT, CalTech, or Case Western Reserve.

    That foundation, which helped to establish an international recognition of The University of Akron's intense focus on polymers, has enabled us to assume significant leadership among our industrial partners.

    The University took a leadership role in the formation of an industry association, PolymerOhio, Inc., and in the Ohio Polymer Strategy Council, an industry-led public/private strategy council that advises the Governor of Ohio and the Ohio Department of Development.

    I am delighted to say that PolymerOhio continues to function at a high level, and our interests are well represented on its board of trustees by Dean Cheng.  I noted that a few months ago PolymerOhio announced yet another a strategic partnership, this time with Supply Chain Edge, to benefit Ohio’s 2,600 polymer manufacturers.

    In the context of this polymer industrial cluster and its interrelated historical context, the university called for a bold commitment to signal strategic intent by undertaking four major initiatives:

    First, we launched a plan to double the size of our R&D base in polymer science and polymer engineering as well as to make investments in chemistry, physics and biomedical engineering.

    Second, we formed the Akon Global Polymer Academy, leveraging our own strength in distance learning technologies and our close association with the Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society.

    Third, we created the National Polymer Innovation Center (NPIC), which provides basic and applied R&D to focus on small- and mid-sized polymer processing companies as well as on the development of valued-added products and opportunities.

    Let’s look at another initiative. I am sure most of us here recall the pejorative term “Rust Belt,” that was applied to much of the Midwest.  Well, rust and corrosion are a problem throughout the world, not just in the Midwest.  It is a huge drain on economies – estimated at $400 billion annually in the U.S. alone – and one that must be addressed.

    So as it happens, a local business leader and representatives of the Department of Defense and the National Association of Corrosion Engineers approached us a few years ago.

    They asked, “Given your university’s expertise in polymers and engineering, would you consider creating the world’s first baccalaureate degree program in corrosion engineering?”  I replied, “We’d be delighted!”

    And so we have, and in the process received more than $20 million to get the program going.  Today there are more than 55 undergraduates, 8 PhDs and 6 post-doctoral students in the program.

    Another major initiative that grew out of our polymer expertise is the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron.  It was launched in 2008, through a partnership with three area hospitals and a medical school, to establish Akron as one of the world’s leading centers for the application of biomaterials in medicine, particularly in orthopedic and wound-healing applications.

    The ABIA has made amazing progress in its five years of existence.  In 2010, the ABIA and UARF partnered to win a $1million i6 Challenge Award, one of only six awarded nationally by the U.S.  Economic Development Administration.  In 2012 it signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to assist in the testing and approval of biomaterials.  That same year ABIA also announced the creation of its first spin-out company, APTO Orthopaedics.

    One other collaboration that must be mentioned is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, or NAMII, in Youngstown. This initiative promotes further development of 3D printing, a technology widely hailed as a revolutionary advancement of manufacturing technology.

    Our expertise in multi-layering of polymers, multiple electronic printing technologies, and related fields positioned us very well to become a key collaborator in NAMII, and indeed, in additive manufacturing research as a whole. (Dr. Miko Cakmak, who was one of two Akron representatives at the NAMII announcement, makes an excellent case that 3-D printing offers the potential for the development of a regional industrial cluster based on flexible electronics.)

    The point of all these examples is that in weighing the success and influence of a college, we must look beyond the usual metrics in order to appreciate the college’s role in creating relevance, connectivity and productivity with the community, particularly as it relates to economic development.

    As I have just illustrated, the excellent foundational work of Dr. Muse, Dean Kelley and other colleagues laid the groundwork for the creation of these important and vital partnerships and initiatives.

    And as we worked with our partners to create those novel collaborative projects, the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering also continued to grow, excel and further expand the platform for new achievements in the near future.

    The college’s enrollment has grown 53 percent since its founding, and is 20 percent higher than just 15 years ago.

    The faculty has increased in number by 73 percent over the past 25 years.

    Research spending in Fiscal 2011-2012 was $15 million, 173 thousand and 656 dollars, a 253-percent increase from the college’s first year (1988-89) and 146 percent higher than it was when I arrived here in 1999.

    Physically, the college’s growth has been astounding.  For some research programs at other institutions, successful growth over 25 years may mean the addition of one additional floor of lab space.  The polymer program at The University of Akron has grown into something of a campus within a campus, with four separate buildings, three of them less than 25 years old.

    The Goodyear Polymer Center opened in 1991; the Akron Polymer Training Center in 1993; the Polymer Engineering Academic Center in 2002; and the National Polymer Innovation Center in 2010.

    This steady momentum, perhaps more than any other factor, sends a message to our colleagues throughout academia and our partners in industry – both current and potential – that we are committed to retaining and growing our leadership position in polymer science and polymer engineering.

    So where do we intend to go next?

    There are exciting developments in many areas of research within the college.  A few that hold particular promise are the areas of biomaterials, biomimicry, nanomaterials, microelectronics, optical materials and advanced energy materials.  You’ll note that all of these reflect our ongoing commitment to applied research, commercialization and linkage with industry.

    Moreover, this college continually seeks to expand its research and commercialization activities by actively seeking collaborations that broaden our interactions with other institutions and industry.

    For example, we have enjoyed a strong collaborative relationship with Peking University for many years, and in 2009, we signed an agreement with them to establish a joint Ph.D. program in polymers.

    And just this week, we welcomed a delegation from Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany, led by its Chancellor, Dr. Eberhard Alles, to explore possible collaborative opportunities, including ties with their Cluster of Excellence MERGE program, led by Professor Lothar Kroll, and to also consider forming a U.S.-based Fraunhofer Institute right here in Akron.

    Indeed, I expect you are aware that already some other prestigious U.S. universities cooperate with Germany’s Fraunhofer USA subsidiaries to perform applied research under contract, so it would be fitting to see Akron join their ranks.

    So, as we move forward to yet greater levels of excellence, it is appropriate that we acknowledge how much excellence is conferred upon The University of Akron by this college and its important role in the polymer industry globally.

    Let me conclude these brief remarks by acknowledging the vital role of the program’s alumni around the world.

    Indeed, let me remind you that 95 percent of all technology transfer takes place as people move from college into the workplace, or from one company to another.

    Just three days from now, we will confer graduate degrees upon another class of polymer scientists and engineers.  They are the most visible, most lasting, and dare I say, most valuable contribution this college and this university can make to the region’s vast polymer industry.

    When you look back to where this college has been, where it is now, and how it is positioned for future growth, it should be clear that after 25 years of success and achievement . . . we’re just getting started.

    So let us be cheerful and plunge ahead!

    Thank you.

  • Topic Category: 25th anniversary of the college of polymer science and polymer engineering
  • Tags: Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering
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