In a recent forum with local leaders and federal partners, CU Boulder joined the conversation as a leader in research, innovation, workforce development and economic impact. 

When U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves led a recent roundtable discussion in Denver with local leaders in education, community and business, CU Boulder pulled up a chair. 

Massimo Ruzzene, vice chancellor for research and innovation and dean of the institutes, joined the session on the critical role universities will play in the nation’s push to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing. He highlighted CU Boulder’s role as a leader in research, innovation, workforce development and economic impact, and as a driving force on the national landscape.

During the meeting at Metropolitan State University of Denver, the deputy secretary spoke with representatives of the host university, as well as from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Colorado Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Technology Association, the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, IBM and others. He highlighted the Biden-Harris administration’s strengthening of educational partnerships and workforce programs as part of the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, passed last year by Congress, which promises to pump $280 million into semiconductor research and development, and manufacturing. 

Increasing U.S. chipmaking capacity–which Graves said is a topic of economic and national security–will require millions of workers to join a STEM-based labor force. As a key player in a collaborative ecosystem bringing together education, impactful research and workforce development, CU Boulder is uniquely positioned to prepare those tech workers of tomorrow, according to Ruzzene. “This gives us a lot of potential opportunities for research and development, but it also gives us a unique role in terms of workforce development, and expanding the mission beyond what we traditionally do,” he commented later.

Connecting national needs with the workforce of the future

Ruzzene gave two strong examples of how CU Boulder, supported by the Department of Commerce, connects national needs with pioneering technologies, the workforce of the future, and local and regional companies. Those valuable assets include the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, or CIRES—a joint institute with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—which advances our understanding of global, regional and local environments and the human relationship with those environments, to benefit society. And JILA—a joint institute of CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—is one of the nation’s leading research institutes in the physical sciences, including quantum information science and technology, laser physics, nanoscience and more. Both JILA and CIRES give thousands of students opportunities to learn, research and discover, and millions more Americans benefit from that work. 

Both institutes are pillars of CU Boulder’s vast research and innovation ecosystem, which brings together diverse contributions of a wide range of world-class experts working on innovative ways to transform ideas into impact. With a new workforce innovation director now in place, the university is in a unique spot to translate its strengths in research and education into effective solutions to local, state and federal needs like those presented by the CHIPS Act. 

Beyond traditional academic pathways, CU Boulder offers an ever-growing number of relevant, certificate programs meeting the needs of a broader range of students on a new frontier of higher education. A few CHIPS-related programs include a professional master’s in Photonics–emphasizing modern fabrication techniques–leading to internships and jobs for graduates (the Colorado Photonics Industry Association serves as the advisory board for the program). The university also offers an online, performance-based Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, including a specialization in semiconductor devices.

Elevating student opportunities through powerful partnerships

Recognizing that universities can’t meet workforce needs on their own, CU Boulder also acts as a connector in the educational ecosystem where students can be inspired at various phases of their academic endeavors. One example is partnerships with high schools, community colleges and local employers that raise students’ awareness of the learning resources most relevant to their goals, even if those options are at institutions other than CU Boulder.

CU Boulder also offers rural, four-year degree pathways into engineering through a partnership with Western Colorado and Colorado Mesa Universities. Students choosing those programs enroll in engineering undergraduate programs at either school and in their third and fourth years are taught by CU faculty based on the Western Slope. They then ultimately graduate with an engineering degree from CU Boulder. “It is our responsibility, given our standing in the research and education arena, that we act like a convening hub for other institutions in the state,” said Ruzzene. 

During the roundtable, Ruzzene added that he looks forward to expanding CU Boulder’s collaborations with federal partners, and with local and regional ones including those at the forum, to realize opportunities for all students and communities through education and workforce development programs.