Building the Workforce of Tomorrow

By Mike Seele

When it comes to finding a job after graduation, knowledge gained in the classroom and lab is, of course, critical. But, today’s employers in the rapidly advancing engineering field want more. They want the kind of hands-on skills with the latest technologies that enables new hires to hit the ground running.

The College of Engineering recognizes that need and has been building facilities that give students real-world experiences designing and building products. What distinguishes these facilities is the role industry plays in their development.

When the Engineering Product & Innovation Center (EPIC) opened in 2014, the mission of this interdisciplinary makerspace—one of the first and largest among engineering schools nationally—was largely identified by industry sponsors. This innovative model has since been used to establish two more facilities: The Bioengineering Technology & Entrepreneurship Center (BTEC); and the forthcoming Robotics & Autonomous Systems Technology & Innovation Center (RASTIC). Industry sponsors help support each of the facilities and, importantly, advise the college on how these facilities can be used to provide future engineers with the skills employers need.

With industry input, EPIC was designed to transform the curriculum so students learn the entire innovation process—from concept to design to production to deployment. Equipped with the latest industry technology, EPIC boasts a CAD studio, 3-D printers, a robotic manufacturing line, a machine shop, a foundry, laser cutters and more, and is designed so equipment can be continually updated and reconfigured within the 15,000-square-foot space. As part of the curriculum, all engineering undergraduates pass through EPIC, where they learn to apply theory to real-world, often interdisciplinary, problems.

The college adopted a similar approach when building BTEC in 2020. It advances cutting-edge technologies in the areas of molecular, cellular and tissue engineering; biosensors and instrumentation; and digital and preventive medicine. Students have the opportunity to work on projects—and be considered for internships—with partner companies, who help inform the curriculum by advising on the skills bioengineers need today, and by sharing the latest information on product development and high-impact innovations.

The newest industry partnership is RASTIC, focused on graduate education at the master’s degree level. This hands-on facility won a $4.4 million grant from Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and is now under construction. RASTIC will include a “playroom” for ground and air robots, a miniature city layout for experimenting with miniature self-driving cars, a build area, an AI space with powerful servers, and a soft robotics area. With robotics’ growing intersection with AI and data science, RASTIC will also take advantage of BU’s new Center for Computing & Data Sciences, and is designed to help provide the workforce for the burgeoning robotics industry in Massachusetts.

Dean Kenneth Lutchen said engaging industry is a central part of the College’s strategy moving forward. “We recognize the critical need to build cutting-edge facilities informed by our deep partnerships with industry to ensure that our graduates have the skills and experiences they need to thrive.”