Michigan State University Plans New Center to Train NextGen Workforce

Michigan State University in East Lansing is planning to construct a new Engineering and Digital Innovation Center on its campus to help meet the goal of developing a next-generation workforce prepared for a technology-driven world.
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Students in an introduction to programming class review code on a monitor in the STEM Teaching and Learning Facility. // Courtesy of Derrick Turner/MSU
Students in an introduction to programming class review code on a monitor in the STEM Teaching and Learning Facility. // Courtesy of Derrick Turner/MSU

Michigan State University in East Lansing is planning to construct a new Engineering and Digital Innovation Center on its campus to help meet the goal of developing a next-generation workforce prepared for a technology-driven world.

“We are educating students to face the challenges of tomorrow,” says Abdol Esfahanian, chair of the department of computer science and engineering in MSU’s College of Engineering. “The world is increasingly software enabled and data driven, and computer science is the engine of most innovations.”

The technology sector of Michigan’s economy — and of the U.S. overall — is experiencing significant shortages of workers. The job outlook for engineers continues to show a high demand for talent.

The demand for talent in technology- and data-related areas is only expected to increase. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics projects overall employment in computer and information technology occupations will grow 15 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Health science, social science, business, agriculture, and environmental science all now require digital technologies, automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning as standard tools, and MSU aims to teach students to keep pace.

“MSU students are rooted in Michigan, so we have the ability to contribute to building up high-tech companies in the state,” says Eric Torng, associate chair for research and faculty development in the department of computer science and engineering in the College of Engineering. “Our graduates are highly marketable and could go anywhere. They stay because they want to be drivers of innovation and progress in Michigan.”

The new center will be designed to meet student needs and industry demands for additional highly skilled jobs in Michigan as well as to expand research in materials science and manufacturing. The interdisciplinary center also will support a new degree program for engineering technology aligned with the semiconductor industry expansion in Michigan.

“I wish we had lab space that was dedicated to materials science, like the machine shop for mechanical engineers — somewhere we have opportunity for hands-on experience and interdisciplinary collaboration,” says Chloe Arana, an MSU student who will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from the College of Engineering.

Esfahanian points to the recently constructed STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, funded in part by the state of Michigan, as an example of the potential for the new center, noting “we will need to be thoughtful and intentional in the design to meet student needs.”

After construction, MSU projects enrolling 1,500 additional students as well as hiring additional faculty in the high-demand and technology-intensive areas of computer science, materials science and engineering, data science, cybersecurity, mobility, game development, information science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

The courses and programs associated with these areas span MSU’s colleges of Arts and Letters, Business, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science and Social Science.

“The way digital technology is going is increasingly interdisciplinary,” says Liz Munch, associate professor in the department of computational mathematics, science, and engineering which is a joint department in the colleges of Engineering and Natural Science. “You need to have people who can be collaborative across specialties. Experts in coding or analysis or modeling need to have an understanding of other areas to effectively work together.”

Interdisciplinary connections are an important focus for the center. In addition to classrooms, the facility will provide space for more than 50 lead researchers and their teams. The plans also include lab space for advanced materials science and computational research as well as clean rooms available to researchers across campus and to corporate collaborators.

Recently, MSU joined a network of schools with the goal to collaborate on ways to bring the semiconductor and microelectronics supply chain to the Midwest and expand supply chain ecosystems through groundbreaking research and developing top talent.

MSU researchers already are working on semiconductors in terms of energy generation, energy storage, and energy conversion using thermoelectric and solar materials. Additional research opportunities that would directly affect the semiconductor industry include developing ways to increase production and optimize chip placement within a device.

“Students are very conscious of environmental impact and asking how we develop new products and processes that support sustainability. Computer science — such as artificial intelligence and data analysis — and materials and chemical engineering play a large role in answering that question,” says Chan.

“As students take classes in the new interdisciplinary center and witness the synergy between education and research, they will see how they can play a role in directing the future of the planet. It’s important to show students that with an education in these areas, these are the types of problems you will be solving for academia and industry.”

In the College of Engineering, nearly 80 percent of graduates are employed full time while another 15 percent pursue an advanced degree, and 56 percent of those employed remain in Michigan.

“Bosch and MSU have worked together for years to develop high-caliber talent in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering. Additionally, software and coding skills are in high demand. At Bosch, we are looking for people who can help software connect to hardware,” says Paul Thomas, executive vice president for Bosch in North America and is a member of the MSU Mobility Advisory Council.

“But we also look at soft skills. Can you work well in a team and with others? We see success in graduates who have good base knowledge in their field and also are willing to be flexible, learn from others and grow.”

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