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NSF Assesses Benefits, Outcomes of ERC Program

March 06, 1998

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released an assessment of its Engineering Research Centers (ERC) Program. The two-part study looked at two key aspects of the ERC program: ERC- industry interaction and effectiveness of former ERC graduate students in the workforce.

The ERC-industry portion of the study found that the benefits received by member companies is directly related to the length and level of involvement in a center. The longer a firm participates and the more direct personal interaction there is between corporate and center personnel, the more direct benefits the firm will have received and the greater the impact on company competitiveness.

The study cited three factors in promoting industry participation: (1) the existence of a champion for the ERC within the company; (2) the receptivity of company technical staff to ERC ideas and results; and (3) management support for the ERC partnership within the company.

Benefits of ERC membership as cited by companies surveyed include:

*Access to new ideas, know-how, or technologies.

*Receiving technical assistance.

*Interaction with other firms participating in the ERC.

*Access to ERC equipment and facilities.

*Hiring ERC students and graduates.

The second part of the study examined the impact of the ERC experience on students. Supervisors and other industry representatives of firms employing ERC graduates rated the students higher than their peers in several areas, including: general technical competence; ability to contribute to the employer's technical work; understanding the relationship between work and the clients' needs; and, the ability to work in interdisciplinary teams.

The 26 ERCs were created as government-industry-university partnerships designed to:

*Create long-term collaborations between universities and industry.

*Create new industry-relevant knowledge using an interdisciplinary approach.

*Prepare a new generation of engineering leaders with experience in team-based, cross-disciplinary collaborations.

The study, The Engineering Research Centers (ERC) Program: An Assessment of Benefits and Outcomes, is available on the World Wide Web at www.nsf.gov/pubs/1998/nsf9840/nsf9840.txt