ASU Practice Labs creating talent pipeline for modern industry

A unique program at Arizona State University (ASU) that partners top students with corporations and government agencies to advance prototypes, product development and other design projects is gaining traction as a talent pipeline for modern industry. 

The program, called Practice Labs, also is helping attract businesses to the state. Not only do companies and agencies get to partner with the brightest students, they have access to ASU’s vast research offerings, laboratories and state-of-the-art facilities as well.

Practice Labs is one example of ASU’s national leadership role in commercializing ideas and sending students into high paying careers, said Jon Relvas, who oversees the program as director of business development, Corporate Engagement and Strategic Partnerships, ASU Knowledge Enterprise. 

“The essence of this is to get students applied experience while in school so when they leave, whether it’s an undergraduate or a graduate degree program, they’re leaving ASU with experience in their field of study,” Relvas said. “Companies want to know students have worked on some challenges, and these students are leaving with major accomplishments on their résumés.”

Practice labs solve complex industry challenges

Practice Labs is designed to help businesses and government agencies achieve their “large objectives,” Relvas said.

“This is meant to help industry go after their vision, and how do we help them get there and utilize all the resources across ASU to do it.”   

Test labs from interior design to space technology 

Each Practice Lab is created to solve the specialized need of a corporate sponsor. When a company or government agency becomes a sponsor, Practice Labs coordinates with ASU’s Luminosity Lab to find the best students for the test lab. 

Corporate sponsors can pick from any number of programs for a Practice Lab, from software design and development, drone technology, data science, and interior design to space technology. Among the most popular are engineering within Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and design programs within the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts including architectural design, environmental design, prototype development, and product redesign.  

Since Practice Labs was initiated about three years ago, the program is seeing results including one spinout. 

The company CYR3CON, collaborated with ASU to form a Practice Lab tasked with developing  cyberattack identification software. Students helped accelerate development of a system that uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and data mining to predict when hackers are planning to strike. CYR3CON recently filed its first patent for the software which will be commercialized as part of the company’s suite of products. 

Phoenix Children’s Hospital, one of the highest ranking and largest pediatric hospitals in the country, also formed a Practice Lab with ASU students to create an app that would replace outdated medical forms. The app is designed to eliminate much of the time doctors must spend filling out electronic records every day.  

Practice Labs available year-round 

Unlike internships, Practice Labs are available to industry year-round. Also, projects are not time-limited. Companies and organizations can work with student and faculty teams from a few months to a few years, Relvas said.

“This opens up opportunities for businesses that have a challenge that they want to solve in January and they don’t want to wait until June or July for summer internships to roll around. They’re also not locked into the semester schedule.” 

ASU focus on entrepreneurship and commercialism pays off 

ASU’s focus on collaboration and research with corporate partners is one reason it has been named the most innovative university five years in a row by U.S. News & World Report. 

Much of the credit goes to ASU President Michael Crow, whose vision has transformed Arizona’s largest university into a powerhouse of entrepreneurship and research. In fiscal 2019, its research expenditures totaled $640 million.  

Today, ASU is considered a magnet for industries like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract manufacturer of silicone chips. The company recently announced plans to build a $12 billion plant in Phoenix. The project will create over 1,600 new high-tech jobs and generate thousands of additional jobs in the state.

Communications technology company Zoom also recently announced its plans for a research center in Arizona. It is looking for space near ASU where it is actively recruiting student engineers. For more information about the practice labs, visit: ASU Practice Labs.

Victoria Harker

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