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Paving the Way into Technology Transfer

by Black Issues

Paving the Way into Technology Transfer
By Ronald Roach

As a graduate student in computer science, Monica Williams is intent on having a career that gets her into the senior management ranks of the companies for which she will work. In the spring of 2001, near the end of her first year of graduate studies at Jackson State University in Mississippi, Williams applied for and landed a paid apprenticeship in the field of technology transfer.

Technology transfer refers to the process carried out between research organizations and businesses that converts scientific and technological research into commercially viable technologies and products.

“I didn’t know anything about the field before I got into the apprenticeship,” Williams says.

After two months of academic training, Williams took a staff position at an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers laboratory in Hanover, N.H. During a six-month stint at the laboratory, she designed and created a computer database for the organization’s technology transfer program.

“It was a great experience. The people there were good to me, and I learned a lot about how technology transfer works in a research laboratory,” says Williams, who now is considering making a career of technology transfer.

Williams is one of more than 70 minority college graduates and graduate students who have completed the Entrepreneurial Technology Apprenticeship Program (ETAP), which is based at the National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC) at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va.

In recent years, the technology transfer field has attracted a growing number of college graduates and recipients of master’s and doctoral degrees. The field typically draws graduates from a wide array of backgrounds, including engineering, law, business, marketing and the sciences.

Recognizing that few minority graduates were taking technology transfer jobs, officials from three historically Black colleges — West Virginia State University, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Central State University — the National Technology Transfer Center, and the U.S. Department of Commerce launched ETAP in 1995 to expose students at historically Black institutions to the field. The program has since expanded to include all students from minority-serving institutions and minorities from any college or university.

“The intent of the program is to encourage minority students and graduates to consider a career in technology transfer and technology management,” says Frantz Alcindor, ETAP’s program manager.

Each summer, the NTTC hosts 15 to 20 college juniors, recently graduated seniors, and graduate students for an intensive eight-week academic training program where students learn the basics of technology commercialization. The academic training, which includes room, board and a stipend, is followed by a four- to eight-month apprenticeship at a federal government research laboratory or corporate research facility.

The program is said to be a good fit for science, technical and engineering students who want to apply their expertise towards business or the commercialization of technology; for business students considering a career in technology management; for students with majors outside of business and science who want to make a transition into technology management; and for students interested in accessing federal technologies for business and entrepreneurial efforts.

The research and laboratory sites have included several of NASA’s field centers, Sandia National Laboratories, DuPont corporate facilities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the NAVSEA Surface Warfare Center. As the base for ETAP, the NTTC was established by Congress in 1989. The NTTC is a full-service technology management center, providing access to federal technology information, technology commercialization training, technology assessment, technology marketing, assistance in finding strategic partners, and electronic business development services.

When ETAP was founded in collaboration with the three HBCUs, the program drew its students from those schools. Lesa Taylor DeVond, director of the career services center at Central State, says ETAP typically accepts one or two students a year from the school, which is based in Wilberforce, Ohio. She notes that Central State had its own technology transfer apprenticeship program for a short time during the 1990s, which helped to shape the current ETAP effort.

“I highly recommend ETAP to students at Central State. We encourage them to apply,” DeVond says.

Alcindor says this year’s ETAP apprenticeship class will include 30 students. He notes that growing interest in ETAP has made the program more competitive, and that officials are hoping to double the program’s size in the coming years. It’s currently open to minority students with high academic standing who are juniors, seniors or graduate students. Selection is based on academic performance, application, recommendations, personal interview and the suitability of the applicant to match the apprenticeship site. ETAP is accepting applications from students through the end of February, according to Alcindor.

For more information on ETAP, visit <www.nttc.edu/etap/default.asp>.



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