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Jay Golden: Smart Factory at WSU will diversify the economy

Jay Golden, president of Wichita State University

Jay Golden, president of Wichita State University

The Wichita Eagle

Deloitte’s announcement this week that its Smart Factory global headquarters will be built on our Innovation Campus makes one thing clear: Wichita State University is now an epicenter of the rapidly developing new industrial revolution known as Manufacturing 4.0. And it comes just as the university embarks on an aggressive mission to help diversify our regional economy, attract new smart industry to the area, and retain young talent in Kansas.

The Smart Factory @ Wichita caps a succession of recent announcements regarding ambitious initiatives on our campus. Two weeks ago, Wichita State was named a founding member of the AI Institute for Foundations for Machine Learning. Wichita State earned its membership — and its share of the five-year, $20 million federal grant — as a result of a highly contested national competition comprised of the greatest engineering and computer science researchers in the country. Together with Microsoft Research, the Universities of Washington and Texas-Austin, Wichita State will help lead breakthrough research in artificial intelligence and prepare students for the jobs of the future.

We’ve also just launched the university’s Molecular Diagnostic Lab, a multi-million-dollar robotics-aided facility providing high-volume lab analysis for active COVID-19 virus that will substantially increase the state’s capacity for testing. It will be able to process COVID-19 tests from other counties, school districts, businesses and entities statewide — all to minimize the virus’ spread and stem the disruption of business, schools and daily life.

And this smart revolution will continue as we are about to launch the National Institute for Digital Transformation. More than just a state-of-the-art research facility, the NIDT will meld faculty and students from different departments to develop new research and academic programs in technology, cyber-security, health, manufacturing, defense mobility and supply chain.

All these projects are happening under Wichita State’s Convergence Sciences Initiative, a recently launched platform that interlaces the methods and expertise of multiple academic disciplines in ways that will address the pressing challenges and opportunities faced by our nation and a highly interconnected global world. Convergence sciences not only brings together the energy and research power of our faculty and students, but allows us more opportunities to partner with our regional business community, finding ways to make Kansas industries more competitive and diverse.

Diversification fosters growth

For the fifth straight year, more people have left our state than have moved in. Kansas ranks fifth in the country for outbound migration, and a whopping 68% of Kansans say they leave primarily to find employment.

But Wichita State graduates are bucking that trend. Currently, 78% of our graduates stay in Kansas to help grow our economy and our state. We believe that number can be even higher as we sharpen the university’s focus on accessibility, affordability, applied learning, new academic programs and groundbreaking research.

Wichita State is Kansas’ only urban-based public research university, and we believe the future couldn’t look brighter. In our efforts, we’re fortunate to be championed by the newly formed President’s Innovation and Business Council. This group of area CEOs and leaders from a variety of industry sectors are energized by our vision for creating transformational economic change in Wichita and throughout our state. Their input and partnership are critical as we drive our university and our region forward together.

The workplaces of tomorrow — and the career paths that will be needed for them — are taking shape on our campus today. Together, Wichita State and the state of Kansas can produce the best-trained graduates and visionaries of tomorrow. We’re proud of that, and we hope you share that pride with us. Global companies like Deloitte and others are clearly taking notice of Wichita and Kansas. And we think there’s a lot more good news to come.

Dr. Jay Golden is president of Wichita State University.

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