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June 12, 2012

Companies taking greater role on campuses in producing skilled students


While companies have for decades funded research and recruited at institutions of higher learning, they now are more involved in what students do in some four-year technical programs. They are making recommendations on curricula and influencing students' skills as early as sophomore year, said Amy Slaton, a professor of history at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

"In the last five to eight years" industry and academic cooperation "has taken another notch up," Slaton said. Bachelor's-level engineers "are coming out with a more focused, practical education that serves industry really well."

United Technologies partners with about a dozen U.S. universities and contributes about $5 million annually. The money may be in the form of a donated jet-engine part or cash that funds a lecture series. The Hartford, Conn.-based company recruits at schools such as University of Connecticut and Pennsylvania State University for more than 1,000 internships a year.

"I want more than my fair share" of engineering talent, said Louis Chenevert, chairman and chief executive officer of the aerospace and building-products manufacturer. "We offer the best jobs in America to these people," he said, noting that young engineers get a chance to work on "exciting stuff," such as the Black Hawk helicopter, made by the company's Sikorsky division.

While Slaton says she worries universities are becoming too vocational — with "much of what we see getting produced as knowledge in the schools" starting from "an industry-related focus" — students interviewed for this story weren't complaining.

Peterson, the Virginia Tech student, said he structured his course work toward specializations that Boeing and GE need. When he graduates with a mechanical-engineering degree in 2013, he will have not only experience working at the two companies but also hands-on involvement with some of their top projects.

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