University's mission to make an impact drives research, innovation across disciplines.
South Bend, IN, is home to the University of Notre Dame, one of the leading research institutions in the country. Innovation is at the leading edge at the university, as its academic programs, initiatives and research are working to drive the world forward.
“One of the core missions of the University of Notre Dame is to make an impact,” says James Thompson, the university’s associate vice president for innovation.
Rigorous Academic Programs
With approximately 75 undergraduate degree programs offered through the School of Architecture, Mendoza College of Business, College of Science, College of Engineering, Keough School of Global Affairs and College of Arts and Letters, students can choose a major that best fits their interests and career goals. But no matter what they choose, a rigorous education meant to cultivate bright, skilled leaders awaits.
“It’s more than just the education for your work, for the job that you’re going to do, your position in society. It’s expanding the person and making sure that the person has a mission for themselves and that they are taught the value of being a productive part of society,” Thompson says.
Students interested in taking their education to the next level can also choose from one of the university’s world-class graduate programs.
To create a more productive, resilient and skilled region, Notre Dame’s iNDustry Labs is a platform that links the university with the South Bend-Elkhart region’s powerful manufacturing base.
“As (University President) Father Jenkins has observed, the university’s pursuit of its mission is intertwined with the capacity of the region. Through iNDustry Labs, Notre Dame has established a platform to access the full breadth of the university’s expertise and resources for strategic partnerships with local industry,” says Scott Ford, managing director of iNDustry Labs. “The engagements are of mutual value, enhancing the student experience and extending research and commercialization opportunities while also providing the expertise, facilities and talent to local industry partners to pursue transformative priorities. It represents an exciting next chapter for the region.”
To assist students, the platform identifies experiential learning opportunities, like internships with businesses in the region and project-based courses.
As for companies, iNDustry Labs tailors university services to a business’s goals, connecting them with expertise, facilities, talented students and more. For example, the university is working with Lock Joint Tube, a member of the South Bend-based Lerman Enterprise Network (which also includes Steel Warehouse). The company manufactures mechanical and structural grade steel tubing for solar, automotive, office furniture, health care and other industries.
Lock Joint Tube is partnering with iNDustry Labs on a multi-year collaboration to implement advanced technology, data analytics and 3-D scanners to enable a more repeatable and consistent changeover process. The work has already led to increased efficiency and employee productivity, with more gains anticipated as the projects continue.
“It’s a long-term collaboration,” Ford says. “Truly transformative change does not occur overnight, through a single project or specific service. Rather, with each successive project, the value of the partnership builds for all involved. We look for challenges at these companies, and then look at the broader opportunity set — how can we help give these companies themselves — and, collectively, the companies across the region — a competitive advantage?”
Additionally, to advance and promote the region’s knowledge base in advanced industry, the platform hosts workshops, events and thought leadership opportunities. For example, Ford says the university held a handful of panels in April 2022 that attracted an audience of students, faculty, community members and industry. The panels focused on things like the value of connecting local industry to faculty, students and researchers, as well as the opportunities with applied and advanced analytics and businesses in the region.
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As a university that seeks to be among the pre-eminent research institutions in the country, Notre Dame continues to make ground-breaking discoveries, unlock new knowledge and improve technologies. For example, while still being commissioned, the university held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the creation of the nation’s largest quiet Mach 6 hypersonic wind tunnel in 2018. At Mach 6, which is six times the speed of sound, a plane could travel from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in approximately 23 minutes.
Research, however, is not siloed to a specific school or college. In fact, all the university’s departments are working to improve the world.
The School of Architecture, for example, is studying how ancient structures, like the Taj Mahal, were built so they can be restored if damaged, while the Keough School of Global Affairs addresses some of the world’s greatest challenges, with particular emphasis on the design and implementation of effective and ethical responses to poverty, war, disease, political oppression, environmental degradation and other threats to dignity and human flourishing.
“When you’re doing research, you’re learning something that nobody else has ever discovered before,” says Robert Bernhard, the university’s vice president for research. “Faculty and students are looking for those opportunities to do things where they can work in novel areas, and in many of these disciplines, there’s a lot of action there.”
Students (and some faculty), for example, can apply to participate in the Fulbright Scholars Program. Established by Congress in 1946, the program gives U.S. and international students, scholars, teachers, artists and professionals the chance to study, teach or conduct research in other countries as well as exchange ideas. Every year, approximately 8,000 grants are awarded across most fields of study and academic disciplines. Notre Dame has been recognized for the past eight years as a top producer of Fulbright Program scholars.
“I think it’s a reflection of our students and faculty. We punch above our weight in the Fulbrights,” Bernhard says.
Amazing research and discoveries will only continue at the university, as it received nearly $223 million in research award funding in fiscal year 2021.
Support for Start-ups
A major proponent of entrepreneurism, Notre Dame is home to the IDEA (Innovation, De-Risking and Enterprise Acceleration) Center, which is the primary resource for all commercialization and entrepreneurial activities at the university, providing space, services and expertise for idea development, commercialization, business formation, prototyping, entrepreneurial education and student entrepreneurial efforts.
The center manages Innovation Park, an 80,000-square-foot entrepreneurship center that houses 60 start-ups. Here, everyone from entrepreneurs and inventors to subject matter experts, investors and students can share ideas through meetings, events and trainings.
Tenants have access to office suites, wet laboratories, dark fiber broadband connectivity, student talent, the IDEA Center‘s commercialization services, presentations focused on start-up needs and discounted business, and professional and marketing services, among other things.
While Innovation Park is owned by the university, it has a sister park within the Indiana State-Certified Technology Park network located southeast of Sample and Chapin streets. Owned by the city of South Bend, Ignition Park is a landing area for companies ready to leave Innovation Park as well as businesses relocating to the area from around the world.
“When you’ve outgrown Innovation Park, when you no longer can fit in 3,000-4,000 square feet … go out to Ignition Park. There’s a place there,” Thompson says. “You still can keep that concentration, that density of entrepreneurs, of innovation, but still have your own space.”