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June 21, 2012

CMU Partners To Help Improve Job Training

SolisCarnegie Mellon is known for creating companies and creating jobs. Now, it's helping to train skilled workers to fill those jobs.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis acknowledged that fact when she came to Carnegie Mellon last Thursday, June 14, to announce more than $147 million in grants to develop and expand innovative strategies to help unemployed Americans return to work. Those strategies include improving job training, something that Carnegie Mellon is approaching head on as partners with the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board.

The Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board received $3 million for a new apprenticeship program called "Making it in America."  Joseph Belechak, a 1981 graduate of Carnegie Mellon who majored in civil engineering, industrial administration (business) and economics, serves as its president.

In early June, Carnegie Mellon invited 25 labor leaders to campus to meet with leading faculty members to discuss the next wave of technology so that the labor industry can start preparing its workforce.

"Making it in America is about bringing inventors, scientists and manufacturers together to make it here," said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. "We need to re-connect inventors with the workforce."

SolisCMU faculty members included Heinz College Dean Ramaaya Krishnan; Robotics Professor Howie Choset; University Professor of Robotics William "Red" Whittaker; Jim Garrett, the Thomas Lord Professor and Head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department; Matt Sanfilippo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Smart Infrastructure Incubator; Greg Ganger, the Stephen J. Jatras Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Jessica Trybus, CEO of Etcetera Edutainment.

Among the labor leaders in attendance were Bloomingdale; Frank Snyder, president and secretary treasurer of the Pa. AFL-CIO; and Jack Shea, head of the Allegheny County Labor Council. Also in attendance were labor representatives from the steel, electrical, operating engineers, food and commercial, and communications industries.

At the "Window on Innovation" Working Session, the group learned more about how social media, cloud computing, robots and smart infrastructure are impacting the workplace. They also heard discussion on capturing new manufacturing and saw Whittaker's Google Lunar X Prize Lander. Solis said that Carnegie Mellon is planning on hosting similar events twice a year.

Prior to announcing the grants, Solis, who was making her second visit to CMU, saw demos of a mix of technologies from CMU spinoffs. She said she was moved by the innovative ideas that were shared.

"I was expressing earlier that I was a young child in a candy store. Because you see all these wonderful gadgets and things," she said. "And it gives me a good feeling that there's some great things that need to be talked about that are happening right here.

"Everything I've seen today gives me a sense that innovation is at the core of everything that goes on here. There's so much application with what I've seen here today. ... This is the place to be."

SolisSome of the companies on display included Romibo, a socially interactive robot to assist therapeutic interventions in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and adults with dementia, Peca Labs, which is developing novel replacement heart valves, and Platypus, which is developing an autonomous robotic airboat capable of long-term monitoring of water quality. Solis said it was rare to see some of the collaborations.

"I was just delighted especially to meet the young people - the young entrepreneurs and their faculty members - and see their cooperation here. That was one of the first things that caught our attention," Solis said. "That there's this cooperative sense of working together, whether it's labor management, apprenticeship programs or the labor movement."

CMU's culture of entrepreneurship is supported by six campus incubator groups, collectively known as Greenlighting Startups. An engine for accelerating innovation and job creation, Greenlighting Startups builds upon the university's impressive record of turning campus innovations into new businesses by supporting award-winning professors and world-class students in transforming their research into thriving commercial enterprises.

"We're ever mindful at Carnegie Mellon of our roots as a trade school back in 1900. Though we're no longer a trade school - we're a great, global research university - we still make things and celebrate making things" said CMU President Jared L. Cohon. "Now with our focus on research, we are focused on startups. And we want the startups to result in jobs."

Pictured at the top is U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. (Center photo) CMU Robotics Professor Howie Choset, at left, explains how a robot helps with minimally invasive heart surgery. (Bottom) Solis listens as Astrobotic Preisdent John Thornton explains the company's moon mission. Also pictured is Philip Lehman, associate dean for strategic initiatives at CMU's School of Computer Science.