UT Martin proposes Innovation and Product Realization Facility
Contact 1: Erin Chesnut
MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin plans to add a new facility in the coming years to create workspace where local industry leaders can partner with UT Martin students and faculty to develop and test new products and ideas. The university unveiled plans for the facility Aug. 24 during a breakfast event for local industry representatives in the Boling University Center.
“West Tennessee is not experiencing the resurgence of economy that is happening in Middle Tennessee and some parts of East Tennessee,” said Dr. Bob Smith, UT Martin interim chancellor. “If we’re going to do anything, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. We are absolutely prepared to do that. … If we can capitalize on the partnerships and opportunities (in this area), then great things can happen.”
The proposed facility, large enough to accommodate an 18-wheeler, will provide space for local industry representatives to construct new concepts, develop and test new ideas, and improve upon existing products.
This not only gives UT Martin students and faculty an opportunity to assist with product development, it also gives local industries a chance to evaluate soon-to-be graduates and hire highly qualified students straight off the commencement stage.
“(Industry leaders) will learn who our students are through the internship program in this building,” said Dr. Bob Smith, UT Martin interim chancellor. “This is really a good way to pre-flight new employees.”
The idea for this facility was originally presented by students, highlighting the need for hands-on experience as part of UT Martin’s degree programs. Students in the engineering program are required to participate in team competition projects such as designing and constructing an airplane, bridge, Baja car or concrete canoe. The new facility will provide space for full-size construction of these projects.
The facility will also create partnerships with the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, the Regional Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Center and the Northwest Tennessee Entrepreneur Center. Both the REED Center and NTEC will have a physical presence in the building to help local entrepreneurs who wish to use the space.
“Sometimes they want to be their own boss, so we can bring in curriculum to help them prepare for creating their own venture, their own company,” said Carol Reed, NTEC executive director. “Entrepreneurship is a process very similar to manufacturing. It is working with a raw product, a raw idea, and working with components to make it into a viable business. … If we can create 20-30 new companies that each hire 20-30 employees, think of the impact on West Tennessee.”
These additional resources will also benefit UT Martin students who wish to become business-owners. According to recent statistics, 85-90 percent of graduates from the UT Martin engineering program begin their careers in West Tennessee. The creation of new facilities for these graduates not only increases the value of the UT Martin program, but also puts highly trained employees into the regional workforce.
“We are very, very interested in helping our students, as they go through the program here, become entrepreneurs. … We’re not specifically saying they have to go out and start their own businesses, but we want them to have the mindset of an entrepreneur because (industry leaders) want the creativity and the innovation within their employee base,” said Smith. “(They) want somebody who is excited about possibilities and new product design and ways of improving efficiency, effectiveness and competitive products. If we help build that mindset in (their) employees, I think we provide a higher-qualified person.”
“It’s my belief that UT Martin has always been a catalyst for economic development,” said Jake Bynum, Weakley County mayor. “When we look at (the proposed facility), I think it’s really innovative of Dr. Smith to bring other postsecondary education institutions, whether it’s TCAT or Dyersburg State, into the same room together where it all makes sense for us to be working on the same playing field.”
For more information on the proposed facility, contact the UT Martin Office of University Relations at 731-881-7615.
PHOTO ID: These renderings show two ideas for the layout of the proposed building.