SU summer session for graduate students.
PULLMAN, Wash. In today’s knowledge-based economy, students often pursue a graduate degree as a first step in changing the world. For some, becoming a university professor is part of the plan, but for others it isn’t. For those heading into private industry, opportunities to change the world can be hard to find.
Pavlo Rudenko, a WSU graduate student in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, thinks there must be a better way. Rudenko earned a scholarship this summer to attend a 10-week program at Singularity University in California and returned to Pullman with a message for his fellow graduate students.
“There is another option,” he said recently. “Start your own company. Take responsibility for your own life.”
To that end, he is starting the Tech Venture Club on the WSU Pullman campus. Research labs all across campusand all across the worldare developing innovative and potentially game-changing technology, he said, but too often those discoveries die on the vine for lack of resources or attention.
Universities need money, graduate students need jobs and the world needs big ideas. Rudenko believes the WSU Tech Venture Clubwhere graduate students can learn about start-up issues including intellectual property rights, patent protections, technology transfer, marketing, design, innovation management and financing optionscould make a huge difference.
It’s no accident that Rudenko decided to form the Tech Venture Club soon after returning to WSU from the graduate studies program at Singularity University (SU) in Silicon Valley at the NASA Ames Research Center.
SU was founded in 2008 by Peter H. Diamandis (founder and chair of the X Prize Foundation) and Ray Kurzweil (author, inventor and futurist). The goal of the privately funded university is to bring together specialists in academia, business and government to harness technology to address critical global challenges related to health, poverty, energy, security, space and education.
SU’s founding corporate partners include Autodesk, Cisco, Google, ePlanet Ventures, Nokia and the Kauffman Foundation.
Partnering with WSU
SU’s focus on interdisciplinary research, collaboration and entrepreneurship accords with WSU’s research mission of feeding, sheltering, clothing and fueling the world in sustainable ways, said Howard Grimes, vice president of research and dean of the Graduate School at WSU.
On first meeting Salim Ismail, executive director of SU, Grimes told him: “If SU wants to change the world, launch the next generation of global leaders and provide innovative solutions to global problems, you need to partner with WSU and the land grant-mission.”
Ismail agreed and WSU became one of only two universities in the United States selected as a scholarship partner for SU. The other is the University of Georgia.
SU also agreed to a university-wide graduate student competition that led to Rudenko entering the summer course at SU.
“Up till then, SU had only run country-wide competitions, so this was a huge step for both SU and WSU,” Grimes said.
Unlike a traditional university with undergraduate courses and distinct colleges and majors, SU offers short programs (typically four to seven days) for industry executives and a 10-week summer program for graduate students or post graduates.
Rudenko was one of 80 students in the 2011 class. They came from 35 different countries and were chosen from more than 2,300 applicants. Participants studied a core curriculum related to rapidly changing technology in 10 focal areas including bioinformatics, biotechnology and environmental systems.
Faculty and guest lecturers were the leaders in their fields, Rudenko said, and holding classes near an airbase was useful because several speakers arrived by private jet. He and his peers were mentored by leaders at successful team-based organizations such as Google, NASA, FaceBook, Intuitive Surgical, Halcyon Molecular and others.
“We had access to the latest technologies and could use them and learn about them from the people who developed them,” Rudenko said. “Their passion for what they do was contagious.”
WSU solves real-world problems
“WSU’s reputation for cutting-edge research and capacity to improve the things people touch every day and solve real-world problems” were factors that led to its selection as an SU partner, said Ross Shott, SU director of executive relations.
And, he said, Rudenko’s energy and commitment to helping others was a great addition to the SU program.
“Pavlo was great,” he said. “He is so excited, creative and inventive in his approach, and the things he wants to do have great potential to impact people.”
“Sending Pavlo to Singularity University was fantastic for Pavlo and for WSU,” Grimes said. “This is exactly the type of activity that will be of tremendous value to both our researchers and our graduate students. It builds the bridges upon which our partnerships will thrive.”
Implementing research discoveries
Rudenko’s research at WSU focuses on nanoparticles that provide environmentally friendly alternatives to toxic additives in lubrication oils (see WSU News “Lubricants made safer with nanoparticles”).
He said he would like to see more universities encourage students to think past discovery to implementation, adding that he finds the WSU faculty, including his advisor in the Materials Research Group, Amit Bandyopadhay, very supportive.
According to Shott, SU draws participants from diverse disciplines. But, he said, all students share leadership and teamwork capabilities and are motivated to address the grand challenges facing their home communities and societies around the world.
While at SU, Rudenko was part of an eight-person team focused on security. Their challenge was to create a way to positively impact 1 billion people within 10 years using rapidly advancing technology.
Rudenko’s group came up with a conceptand a websitewhere citizens can use cell phone cameras to document low-level corruption and upload the information to an interactive map. Large-scale corruption is extremely hard to confront, he said, but by starting small and focusing on corruption people deal with every day, the foundation can be built for more substantial changes.
From scholarship to start-up
Projects started during the summer session at SU sometimes develop into start-up companies. Examples from 2009 and 2010 include:
Getaround, a car-sharing marketplace and winner of a TechCrunch Disrupt NYC 2011 award;
H2020, which uses mobile phone applications to collect and map water data for monitoring watersheds, quantifying the effects of water poverty on people who live at the bottom of the economic pyramid, and helping communities and industries understand the dynamics of their water resources;
Made in Space, which provides 3D print-on-demand solutions for manufacturing in space and was developed in partnership with Autodesk.