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First in Class: Taking RIT to the next level

Competitive students vie for a high rank in their class, with ambitious parents urging them on. But colleges and universities? At RIT the university's vision is to be First in Class when local, national and international companies and government agencies go looking for project partners and for new employees. First in Class is more than a catchy title. It is an attitude and mindset for a program that aims to put RIT in the forefront among institutions that collaborate with industry and government in applied research, in product development and in educating students in areas relevant to their current needs. "We will be first in that class of universities that forms real, effective and meaningful partnerships with industry and government," said President Albert Simone, when he announced his intentions.


Professor Nabil Nasr and three members of his remanufacturing group meet to discus the Navy ship project, a First in Class undertaking. Clockwise, from bottom left, are Tara Grimes, Scott Valentine, Nasr and Jeff Heintz.

    Discovering the needs of business and government agencies and partnering with them to fill those needs isn't a new process at RIT. The university regularly designs academic programs to educate students to create and manage new projects in forward-moving industries. "In the past, companies that related to RIT did so through the narrow window of the department with which they were working," says President Simone. "Through this First in Class Initiative, we will bring together the resources of many university wide departments to focus on the needs and objectives of each partnership. This is a logical extension of RIT's historical strengths as a university that is responsive, timely and progressive.

    "But if we are to continue to succeed and to graduate students who will move to the top of their companies, then we have to be bold," Simone adds. "First in Class is bold. It is an initiative that will propel us into the future. It will make our university the first choice for partners looking for cutting edge research, technology transfer and training in our areas of expertise, and it will also make our students their first choice as new employees who can help the company grow."

    First in Class makes the collaborative process a planned part of RIT's mission, not an operation left to chance. RIT will deliver talent, technology and solutions to help industry and government partners increase their effectiveness and reach their goals. Industry and government partners will have a greater stake in RIT, with input into curriculum development; access to students via named scholarships, internships and problem-solving teams; preferred access to RIT facilities; and guidance in setting RIT's research agenda.

    "A great university always distinguishes itself by having areas of excellence. We want to continue to go in this direction, and First in Class will take us there," says Bruce James '64, an RIT trustee. RIT will focus at first on three areas of excellence. Donald Boyd, former president of the RIT Research Corpora-tion and RIT's newly appointed associate provost for outreach programs, will manage the overall First in Class Initiative and head the Information Technology area of First in Class. Frank Cost, associate dean of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, is leading the Imaging and Publishing area and Paul Petersen, former dean of the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, is heading the Design, Development, Manufacturing (D2M) team.


The ONR's Paul Rispin, fourth from the left, on a tour of RIT.

    "Applied research is what RIT does," says Boyd. "We are the perfect choice to find solutions to problems and participate in new product development."

    Solutions, indeed. A number of projects are already under way, providing solutions to clients and illustrating RIT's First in Class mindset.

A computer model of the remanufactured Navy ship.
    RIT's National Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery (NCR3) is now applying its resource recovery methods to Navy problems and, in the process, could save the Navy (and taxpayers) many millions of dollars. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) asked NCR3 to expand the scope of its methodology to include Navy systems. The program was initiated with a congressional appropriation secured byRep. Louise Slaughter in the 1997-98 federal budget. In total, NCR3 has received $5 million for the project, including $2 million secured by Slaughter and Sen. Charles Schumer in this year's federal budget. As a pilot program, ONR suggested that NCR3 investigate how an old Navy Surface Effect Ship 200B could be redesigned to take advantage of the NCR3 methodology. Using these funds, NCR3 has come up with redesigns for ship hulls, propulsion systems and other configurations that not only remanufacture retired vessels, but also help increase the range and speed of the ships, and make them more stable than conventional designs and more useful for research activities. Starting less than two years ago, the redesign activities have taken place in RIT's Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (CIMS) and at Pacific Marine, Honolulu. The redesign developed by NCR3 has other significant commercial applications, says Nabil Nasr, director of the three-year-old NCR3. For example, the Department of Transportation has called to learn about findings from the ship conversion project and its applications to fast ferries and other potential uses across the nation. "The ONR ship project has already helped agencies to see what remanufacturing can do," says Nasr.

    "It's going very well, says Dr. Paul Rispin, ONR's program manager, Industrial And Corporate Programs Department, about the NCR3 collaboration. "This will provide us with a lot of options for our advanced hull form for Navy research craft. I'm putting NCR3 in touch with other users of technology and programs inside the Navy. We're trying to expand the usefulness of what NCR3 has done.

    "We are very pleased with the caliber of the work that NCR3 has done on this pilot project," Rispin adds. "The process and methodology developed by Dr. Nasr and his team have been of the highest quality and will prove extremely useful for our collaborative work with our university and industrial partners."

    With aging ships an ongoing concern, Rispin says, "it's good for my program--I don't have to come up with the dollars to go buy a new ship."

    What about RIT? "The benefit to the College of Engineering and RIT is that we will ratchet our reputation up yet another notch," says Petersen. "We'll be better known worldwide."

    While the Navy project is the largest one to date for the NCR3, the center has established itself in just a few short years as a national and international leader in the field of remanufacturing. To date, more than 276 companies, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and other state and federal agencies, have called upon NCR3's expertise.

    "The types of projects undertaken by NCR3 are great examples of how our teams of staff, faculty and students can deliver results to industry and government that make a real difference," says William Sheeran, assistant vice president for academic affairs and director of CIMS.

    RIT already has a market position in the area of imaging and publishing. Two key fields of opportunity--integrated publishing systems and imaging devices and materials--offer the potential for several business lines that would become the focus of research, applications and innovations, and training and education.

    "It's the combination of disciplines that we can offer that makes RIT unique in meeting industry's needs," says Cost. "The whole point of First in Class is to make ėsuper disciplines' or cross-discipline focuses, and then promote those as the new themes for RIT. We're much bigger than our singular core strengths. And we can offer more to both industry and students by realizing what tremendous cross-over applications exist from program to program."

    "Many companies used to relate to RIT in terms of very specific schools or programs; many knew RIT only through a single department," Cost adds. "A good example is Heidelberg--it probably never thought of RIT in terms of anything except ėthe place with the school of printing.' Now, Heidelberg has a much broader view of RIT as a comprehensive school."

    As another example, John R. Schott, the Frederick and Anna B. Wiedman Professor of Imaging Science, is one of 14 researchers selected for the federal government's Landsat Science Team and is director of RIT's Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing (DIRS) Laboratory. (See the Gallery, page 16 for images from his work.) His systems combine software systems and imaging science and printing capabilities to offer government agencies and industries information on global change.

    The DIRS team has designed, constructed and extensively tested a device called the Modular Imaging Spectrometer Instrument (MISI), described by Schott as "an exotic, hyperspectral system" capable of capturing information well beyond the visible spectrum. The device will be loaded onto an airplane that will fly under Landsat 7, essentially "seeing" what Landsat sees. Comparisons of the readings from the two sources will be used to calibrate the satellite's imaging device.

    NASA administrator Daniel Goldin, on a visit to RIT this past year, called RIT a "key player" in the fast growing Earth imaging technology.

    "Landsat 7 is equipped with a much more sophisticated instrument than previously available," says Schott. "We expect the new data will give us a much better understanding of what goes on in the Great Lakes." Landsat 7 will make practical use of RIT imaging science research, and provide new information for RIT researchers to put to use.

Palm Pilots such as this one benefit from RIT First in Class testing and research.
    RIT's First in Class Initiative in information technology (IT) has also adopted the super discipline concept by creating the IT Lab. The lab, a new multidisciplinary resource, will acquire emerging IT technologies and apply them in novel ways to issues of interest to RIT industry and government partners.

    The IT Lab's initial project is supported by a cash and equipment grant from Sun Microsystems. The project focuses on helping Sun explore the potential of distributing information simultaneously to large numbers of people who are connected to the Internet. Multicast is a technology that supports this type of information distribution. Sun asked the IT Lab to use Sun's newly developed multicast technology to explore technical issues related to improving the technology's reliability.Another aspect of the Sun Microsystems project is to demonstrate the feasibility of information multicasting to mobile computing platforms, such as the Palm Pilot and cellular telephones. Here, the challenge is to slim down the software so that it fits in the small memory typically found in mobile devices. Sun developed a slimmed down version of their core software technology, the Java Virtual Machine, and provided the software to the IT Lab.

    A team of faculty and students headed by computer science professor James Heliotis used the Sun software in the Palm Pilot VII to show that multicast technology could transmit information to wireless devices. "Sun already developed the technology," says Heliotis. "Our goal is to take their cutting-edge research and come up with ideas for using it."

    Sun has funded research at leading universities all over the world, including MIT and Harvard. But the RIT project is fundamentally different, says Phil Rosenzweig '77, director, Sun Microsystems Laboratories Boston Center for Networking. "This is advanced development ...[and] we're asking RIT to take the technology that we've done the research on and make it practical."

    Rosenzweig says he's impressed with the high level of commitment and the motivation provided by the new First in Class program.

    The benefits to students are as clear as the benefits to partners. Jeffrey Lasky, professor and director of the new IT Lab, emphasizes that an important aspect of the First in Class effort is the creation of "an enriched academic environment for our students. It's a win-win-win situation. Our students will gain invaluable experience, faculty will have exciting research opportunities, and our industry partners will benefit from access to our resources--both in terms of people and facilities."

    Stan McKenzie, provost and vice president for academic affairs, emphasizes that although First in Class will focus on three specific areas to start, the benefits of the initiative will be felt throughout the university. "We've selected these three areas strategically. They not only capitalize on RIT's existing strengths, but also provide for a broad range of interdisciplinary collaborations across the university," he says. "RIT already has a strong reputation among students and our industry and government partners; this initiative will take us to the next level, one that we are well positioned to achieve."

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