Obama Lauds University Partnership in Speech at Rolls-Royce

March 12, 2012

During a visit to a Rolls-Royce factory in Prince George County on Friday, President Barack Obama praised a partnership between the company, the University of Virginia and other universities and manufacturers.

Addressing a crowd that included U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan and other members of the University community, Obama held up the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, or CCAM, as a model for public-private partnerships.

"It's a partnership between manufacturers – including this one – U.Va., Virginia Tech, Virginia State University … the Commonwealth and the federal government," Obama said of CCAM. "So think of this as a place where companies can share access to cutting-edge capabilities. At the same time, students and workers are picking up new skills. They're training on state-of-the-art equipment; they're solving some of the most important challenges facing our manufacturers."

CCAM, a part of a larger partnership between the University and Rolls-Royce, is scheduled to open in September in a 60,000-square-foot facility now under construction on the 1,000-acre Rolls-Royce Crosspointe campus in Prince George County.

At the facility, faculty and students from U.Va. and its partner schools will work to develop solutions to problems identified by manufacturers and quickly move those solutions from the lab to the marketplace. Rolls-Royce and seven other companies are participating.

Initial plans call for a total of 70 students, both graduate and undergraduate, from U.Va., Virginia Tech and Virginia State, to work alongside employees from each of the partner companies and full-time CCAM staff.

During his speech Friday, Obama touted an initiative in his proposed budget for a new National Network of Manufacturing Innovation, which would consist of "institutes of manufacturing excellence where some of our most advanced engineering schools and our most innovative manufacturers collaborate on new ideas, new technology, new methods, new processes.

"And if this sounds familiar, that's because it's what you're about to do right here at Crosspointe," Obama said.

The facility will both allow manufacturers to draw on the expertise of the universities and also foster close collaboration between students and the University's partner companies, said Barry Johnson, senior associate dean in U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

"It gives the companies a chance to see the students firsthand and learn about them," Johnson said. "It's really going to create opportunities for both the companies and our students."

The University's larger partnership with Rolls-Royce – which includes ties to both the Engineering School and the McIntire School of Commerce – underscores the role higher education can play in economic development, provides the University with a chance to collaborate with peer institutions and gives students practical training opportunities, Sullivan said last week.

Louis Glazer, a third-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce, traveled to Crosspointe Friday with the University delegation to watch the president's speech. Glazer plans to intern with Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis this summer and hopes to work for the company after graduation. Last semester, he made a presentation to Rolls-Royce executives as the culmination of a block of courses sponsored by the company.

"It was on whether they should continue making one line of engines that they make one now or branch off to make engines for a new kind of plane," said Glazer, who said he took a different type of benefit from the experience than from traditional academic courses.

"In presenting findings to people who are in the industry, you have to tailor it to the business world," he said. "That's a win for the student."

Prior to the president's speech Friday, James M. Guyette, the North American chairman, president and CEO of Rolls-Royce, said higher education is a crucial part of advanced manufacturing in the U.S.

"For facilities like this to succeed, this nation needs a very strong education system," Guyette said. "We are very fortunate to have some great partners, partners like the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia State University and John Tyler Community College. What do they bring? Innovation, technology, research, education and workforce development. Without that, we cannot as a nation have strong advanced manufacturing. So they are major partners in all of this."

– by Rob Seal