Villanova Engineering Research Center Identified as a Model in NSF Industry-University Cooperative Research Center Report

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Pictured to the right: Dr. Moeness Amin, Director, Center for Advanced Communications

A 2012 report prepared for the Industry-University Cooperative Research Center Program (I/UCRC) of the National Science Foundation (NSF), has named Villanova University’s Center for Advanced Communications (CAC) “an excellent and rare example of how to sustain and grow a research operation in a smaller university.”  The College of Engineering’s CAC is one of four case studies presented in the report titled “Research Center Sustainability and Survival: Case Studies of Fidelity, Reinvention and Leadership of Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers.” The purpose of the study was to highlight how certain research centers — after NSF funding ends — not only survive, but thrive by reinventing themselves. In a chapter titled “Transformation of a Small University I/UCRC,” the authors explore how, with strong leadership and a new mode of operation, the Center for Advanced Communications became a highly successful university research center.

The Center for Communication was founded as an NSF I/UCRC in 1990. For the first ten years, it operated under a consortium model led by the late Dr. Joseph DiGiacomo. Replacing him as director in 2002 was Dr. Moeness Amin, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who remains at the helm today. By the time Dr. Amin assumed leadership, NSF funding had ended and CAC membership had declined to none.  The NSF report credits leadership by a “very productive, forceful, and, from a grantsmanship perspective, entrepreneurial director” with the center’s transformation.

The most significant change made to the CAC under Dr. Amin’s leadership was its transition from the consortium model, with shared governance between Director, faculty and industry participants, to a model in which a series of essentially parallel contract research projects were executed. The changes helped the CAC to not only survive, but to significantly increase its annual revenue. In addition to growing funding from industry, the center has been awarded several grants and contracts from federal research agencies.

The NSF I/UCRC report identified a number of additional factors that were critical to making the CAC successful:

  • Five state of the art research labs
  • Staffing which included hiring three research professors who are among the most productive faculty in the College
  • Technical focus on information technologies
  • Academic integration and graduate education (the center’s research professors serve as advisors to senior projects, masters, and doctoral students)
  • Research quality that has produced a variety of scientific, technological and socially valuable outcomes (“a commendable record of accomplishment”)

The NSF report notes that, given Villanova’s focus on student education and community engagement, and when considering the school’s limited funding and research expenditures, it is “indeed an accomplishment for Villanova to mount the research talent, lab facilities and entrepreneurial mindset to successfully maintain, and in fact grow, the CAC.”  The authors of the report point to the center as an “excellent and rare example of how to sustain and grow a research operation in a smaller university that is by no means nationally competitive in terms of sponsored research in science and engineering.” They believe the CAC case will be of particular interest to chief research officers or provosts in smaller universities that “nonetheless have aspirations to mount significant research programs in areas of niche expertise.”

The NSF I/UCRC report featured three additional case studies:

  • The Center for University of Massachusetts/Industry Research on Polymers (CUMIRP) and how it developed a hybrid center model
  • Advanced Steel Processing & Products Research Center (ASPPRC) at Colorado School of Mines and how it met the challenges of an industrial sector that was both globalizing and shrinking
  • The Ohio State University’s Center for Welding Research and how very early in its development it morphed into the not-for-profit Edison Welding Institute (EWI), one of the world’s largest and most respected manufacturing-focused research institutes

The authors of this report are Dr. Louis Tornatzky, professor of Industrial Technology and co-founder of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Dr. Denis Gray, professor of Psychology in the Public Interest at North Carolina State University; and PhD candidate Lindsey McGowen, NSF I/UCRC Evaluation Project Manager, also at NC State.

Dr. Moeness Amin joined Villanova University in 1985. He is is a Fellow of three professional societies and a recipient of two technical achievement awards. Dr. Amin has more than 550 publications with over 5000 citations in the general area of signal processing.

A complete copy of “Research Center Sustainability and Survival” can be found online at http://www.ncsu.edu/iucrc/PDFs/Graduated%20cases%20reportFINAL.pdf.