TALKING SHOP: University of Rhode Island’s Business Engagement Center Executive Director Katharine Hazard Flynn, speaks with Portsmouth Business Development’s William E. Clark, yellow tie, and Raymond Sepe, president and CEO of Electro Standards Laboratories, at the “We Mean Business Expo.”
Just days after the Sept. 5 launch of the University of Rhode Island’s Business Engagement Center, Executive Director Katharine Hazard Flynn was out in the business community making connections.
At the “We Mean Business Expo” at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick in Warwick on Sept. 10, Flynn handed out brochures and business cards and worked the floor, talking with business owners, including Ray Sepe Sr., president and CEO of Cranston-based Electro Standards Laboratories, and committing to speak at an East Greenwich Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours meeting on Sept. 24.
Though such centers are increasingly sprouting up nationally, other Rhode Island college and university representatives say that, with the exception of the John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University, there is nothing else like the new URI center in the state.
The point of Flynn’s awareness-raising efforts was not lost on Sepe, whose company does research, manufactures products and provides services found in communications and computer rooms around the world. Sepe, whose company already has a working relationship with students and faculty at URI and other Rhode Island schools, was eager to learn more.
“URI has the correct attitude to work with businesses,” Sepe said, “but I was pleased to see they’ve actually formalized it.”
The new center “will allow more resources to be available to the university that are available to industry as a necessity,” he said. “Universities can benefit by having relationships with companies like ours, because we have technologies we’ve developed that would be helpful to university curriculums, training and internships.”
The new business-engagement center, which includes Flynn, a small staff and a Web portal, is the “front door” through which companies recruiting workers, faculty seeking support for business-related academic research and students seeking internships can find each other, Flynn says.
In a state rich with public and private schools that work hard to connect students with real-world experiences to help narrow the skills gap and keep jobs here, URI’s center is part of a growing and potentially pivotal national trend.
Universities across the country are turning more and more toward establishing Business Engagement Centers like URI’s in order to promote mutually beneficial relationships between the schools, the business community and students, according to Daryl Weinert, associate vice president for research and a former founding executive director of the BEC at the University of Michigan.
“It’s a holistic approach to corporate relations,” Weinert told Providence Business News in a recent phone interview. “You’re not just one dimensional, only going to companies for philanthropy. You’re going to them as a partner. Within the next 10 to 12 years, all of the tier-one research institutions will have a function like this or an office like this. It goes hand in hand with the increasing role academia is being asked to play in economic development.”