Joel S. Bloom
Monday, March 25, 2013
Just two years ago (in the spring of 2011), the Interdisciplinary Design Studio (IDS) was founded by Professor Atam Dhawan, a program that gave honors students a chance to do independent research in a unique way. IDS aimed to teach students, starting as freshmen, how to research new technologies but also how to create business plans that proved there was a market for such technologies. After four years in IDS, the students would be skilled enough to form their own start-up companies or help them to become top managers and leaders.
The result: two years later, IDS teams have won local and state-wide entrepreneurial contests. They have received research money from major companies and individuals. They have submitted invention disclosures to NJIT and some have applied for provisional patents. Perhaps most importantly, all of the teams have learned how to fuse research and innovation with business planning, management and marketing.
IDS started with 20 students divided into five teams. It has now grown to 64 students divided into 17 teams. Each team has a faculty adviser and an industry adviser who guide the students’ research.
The IDS program has established an External Advisory Board, chaired by Michael Smith’95, President and CEO of Forbes.com. Smith is a strong IDS advocate and recently hosted an IDS Student Project Showcase at the Forbes Galleries in Manhattan. Following the Showcase, three board members were so impressed with the presentations that they offered over $20,000 in stipends to two IDS teams: Touch Care, a four-member interdisciplinary team that is developing a painless needle that numbs a patient’s skin; and AutisMind, a four-member interdisciplinary team that is designing smart toys that interact with autistic children while analyzing their cognitive abilities. The stipends will allow the teams to spend the summer researching their devices at on-campus studios.
NJIT is committed to support post-baccalaureate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Although the university has multiple initiatives to achieve this outcome, our flagship initiative, particularly to ensure that underrepresented students have the opportunity for post-baccalaureate education is the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program.
The NJIT McNair program is supported through a special federal grant competition which awards funding to institutions of higher education to prepare eligible participants for advanced degrees and doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Participants are from disadvantaged backgrounds and have demonstrated strong academic potential. NJIT works closely with McNair program participants as they complete their undergraduate requirements, and the university encourages participants to enroll in graduate programs, tracking their progress through to the successful completion of advanced degrees. The goal is to increase the attainment of advanced degrees and PhD’s from underrepresented populations in society.
Under the very able leadership of the NJIT McNair staff (particularly that of its Director, Professor Angelo J. Perna) the program has achieved outstanding success. Over one hundred sixty students have participated; one hundred thirty-seven have earned a bachelor’s degree, almost ninety students have received awards for their research presentations, and a total of one hundred eleven scholars have enrolled in post baccalaureate degree programs (with sixty two post baccalaureate degrees having been earned thus far).
A recent demonstration of the success of the NJIT McNair Program was illustrated at the 15th Annual Research Symposium and Mentoring Conference, sponsored by the nine members Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Minority Participation. At the conference, held on March 16, students from institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, the University of Delaware, and Temple University had the opportunity to present their research findings. Students from the NJIT McNair program excelled and won five of the top conference awards, including First Place Engineering Award, First Place Mathematics/Computer Science Award, and Third Place Engineering Award.
The students enrolled in NJIT’s McNair program are clearly a major asset for the university. They are bright, high achieving, and intellectually curious…demonstrating the ability to succeed in the pursuit of an advanced academic degree. The results of the NJIT McNair program thus far show that it is having a very significant impact in achieving its goal of increasing the number of minority students with advanced degrees in STEM fields and disciplines.
As you may know, NJIT led the charge among colleges and universities in New Jersey with its Alternative Spring Break 2013 initiative. With over 600 volunteers registered to participate, NJIT students as well as faculty, staff and alumni helped eradicate some of the devastation from Superstorm Sandy. Coordinating local organization efforts and the participation of students from 22 other colleges in and around New Jersey, NJIT helped (re)build New Jersey Strong.
This project was planned by the Center for Resilient Design at NJIT’s College of Architecture and Design, led by Thomas G. Dallessio, in cooperation with NJIT’s Career Development Services, led by Gregory Mass, and the Campus Center’s Donna Minnich-Spuhler and Humby Baquerizo. During March 16-24, 2013, under the direction of local organizations, NJIT students joined communities from Newark to Brigantine in activities that included clean-ups, deconstruction, construction, finishing and surveys.
Some two dozen projects located at points from the IHS Development Corporation in Newark and to the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven received help. NJIT helped over 20 communities recover and rebuild – including Aberdeen, Bradley Beach, Long Branch, Long Beach Island, Manasquan, Middletown, Neptune, Normandy Beach, Point Pleasant, Sandy Hook, Seaside Heights, Ship Bottom and Toms River. Daily buses left the NJIT campus filled with students and others in bright yellow t-shirts and even brighter smiles.
Not long after Sandy struck, the NJIT Alternative Spring Break 2013 was conceived to help municipal, social service, community and/or faith-based groups recover from the devastating hurricane. Assignments involved cleaning up beaches and parks; deconstructing homes (i.e., pulling out wall boards, shoveling mud out of basements); building new structures; finishing work such as painting or simple carpentry; and survey work such as collecting data and information.
At the outset, the Alternative Spring Break was conceived as a weeklong community service project when hundreds of NJIT students, faculty and alumni would help residents, businesses and government officials rebuild in a resilient manner. Having exceeded that goal, NJIT has left an indelible mark on areas hard hit by Sandy.
NJIT’s Alternative Spring Break represents a critical collaboration necessary for the successful revitalization of the Jersey Shore, the City of Newark and other cities and suburban towns affected by Hurricane Sandy, as well as opportunities to protect the environment and build new communities that can withstand flooding and other future natural disasters in innovative ways. As New Jersey’s Science and Technology University, NJIT is uniquely qualified to undertake this effort and provide a public service to the people of New Jersey.
Finally, I want to draw your attention to what can only be described as the NJIT Athletic Miracle.
The NJIT men’s basketball team and the NJIT women’s basketball team equaled each other in athletic glory and brought great pride to the university by winning their first respective NCAA Division I Conference Championships.
But this “miracle” was derived from the incredible persistence, tenacity, talent, and ambition to succeed on the part of our Athlete/Scholars.
One observer put it this way:
There were those were surprised when then- President Saul Fenster of New Jersey Institute of Technology announced, at a Madison Square Garden basketball game with Yeshiva University on February 1, 1995, that NJIT would give serious consideration to moving its athletics to Division I status.
The skepticism gained strength when the men’s basketball team ended the season four years ago with a 0-29 record. Crowds were sparse for the few games the school played at the Prudential Center in Newark.
But the skepticism has disappeared…and has been replaced by pride. Both the women’s and men’s Division I basketball teams have garnered a Great West Conference championship title.
NJIT found a way to do it right, bringing in diverse student-athletes to build the program. They were also able to help raise the profile of the school beyond the state and beyond academic circles.
In the end, NJIT is, and will always be, a highly sought after academic institution. But now it can balance that with athletic success. That will be a terrific addition for the school, one that has produced countless engineers and now an athletic brand.
Kudos to both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and to their coaches Jim Engles and Steve Lanpher, for their twin victories and for showing all of us what determination and tenacity can achieve!
Joel S. Bloom, President