According to Himanshu Jain, professor of materials science and engineering, the United States’ approach to graduate education has not changed much since the period after World War II.
Given the rapid pace of technological change and the growing need for a technologically skilled workforce, Jain believes that now is the time to innovate. The student-centered, “use-inspired” approach he envisions is not meant to replace conventional methods, but to provide an option for those students who are interested in “seeing the impact of their work.”
Jain, who is also T.L. Diamond Distinguished Chair in Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Institute for Functional Materials and Devices at Lehigh, describes the conventional model of graduate education—pursuing answers primarily to satisfy the intellectual curiosities of a faculty member alone—as “not the best option for everyone.”
“An education more closely aligned with solving real-world, industry problems should be available as an option,” says Jain.
That is why he is partnering with fellow science and engineering faculty at Lehigh, as well as faculty from Lehigh’s College of Education and a colleague at Corning Incorporated, to pioneer an approach to graduate education that is centered around a stronger collaboration between academia and industry than the conventional method.
The project recently received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its highly competitive Innovations in Graduate Education program.
The team plans to test a graduate training model that represents a student-centered, holistic approach that provides students with long-term, hands-on industry experience besides the rigor of conventional doctoral program. It is led by principal investigator Jain, and includes co-principal investigators Anand Jagota, professor and founding chair of Lehigh’s Department of Bioengineering; Volkmar Dierolf, Distinguished Professor and chair of Lehigh’s Department of Physics; H. Lynn Columba, associate professor of instructional technology and teacher education at Lehigh; and Daniel Vaughn, Manager of External Technology Collaborations at Corning Incorporated.