Partnership Is Key To Success Of New Undergraduate Engineering Facility

Published: April 15, 1997

The unique partnership involving industry and foundations in CU-Boulder’s new $17 million Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory may be a harbinger of similar collaborations around the nation, according to engineering Dean Ross Corotis.

“Industry has not traditionally been involved in the educational process of engineers,” said Corotis. “But I think the overwhelming support we have received on this project is a signal the private sector is acknowledging their stake in the quality of engineering education.”

The high-tech facility is equipped to handle more than 1,200 undergraduate engineering students a day beginning their freshmen year, providing hands-on experience in designing and building real-world projects. Believed to be unique in the world, the ITLL facility was designed to allow engineering students to work in interdisciplinary teams on various projects, much like teams in industry.

The primary industrial partner in the ITLL project, the Hewlett-Packard Co., provided an equipment and computer grant worth $2.4 million and an additional $694,000 in-kind equipment gift to CU, Corotis said. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation of Palo Alto, Calif., contributed an additional $1.27 million. The late David Packard co-founded Hewlett-Packard.

“Attracting and retaining high-quality students in engineering has always been a challenge,” said Tony Napolitan, university grants manager for Hewlett-Packard headquarters in Palo Alto. “When we saw the plan by the University of Colorado for this facility, it made a tremendous amount of sense to us.”

The key is the interdisciplinary aspect of ITLL, including undergraduate teamwork and revitalized curricula. “In the workplace, teams of engineers need to understand how to communicate,” Napolitan said. “The new ITLL facility should help students tremendously in preparing for the workforce.”

Integrating new engineering curricula and providing hands-on, real-world experience has become an educational engineering trend across the country, said Napolitan. Whether universities build new facilities specifically to address that need, as CU-Boulder has done, or simply enrich their curriculums and upgrade existing facilities, the students are the winners, he said.

“Hewlett-Packard is interested in improving the quality of education to include hands-on opportunities, and I think we are making big inroads,” he said. “We recruit in Colorado as we do in other states, and it’s a plus for us to hire students who have been trained with the latest and greatest technologies and tools.”

“Corporations are increasingly recognizing the roles universities can play as partners,” said Corotis. “More and more, these companies are looking to us as extensions of themselves.”

The university’s ITLL facility will be formally dedicated on April 24.