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Opinion: Michigan’s Universities Are a Big Key to Tech-Driven Future

December 8, 2022

Crain’s Detroit Business
Teresa K. Woodruff
Dec. 7, 2022

Michigan is particularly blessed to have three top-tier research universities: Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. Collectively represented by the University Research Corridor, we lead the nation’s top university research clusters in graduates with degrees that are in high demand by the mobility industry, among other vital measures.

This is good, and there is appetite for more. Indeed, two-thirds of the 45,000 digital or engineering mobility jobs needing to be filled by 2028 will be computer related, according to projections cited by MichAuto. “Accelerating our tech-talent future,” in fact, is the theme of this week’s MichAuto Summit in Detroit. It is a call long sounded by Michigan employers, and MSU is listening.

The university is a key talent asset for the state, annually graduating thousands of students with cutting-edge knowledge and practical skills into the workforce. More than six out of ten 2021 MSU graduates took their first career steps in Michigan. Among MSU’s engineering graduates — in especially high demand — 58% chose Michigan’s innovation ecosystem.

Recognizing that jobs requiring digital skillsets don’t always require a four-year degree, MSU last year partnered with Apple for its first-in-the-U.S. Apple Developer Academy in Detroit. The academy graduated its first cohort of nearly 100 students in June after a 10-month course in iOS app development and entrepreneurship.

These diverse and highly skilled graduates of our various programs have families who also call our state home. When an excellent education is paired with high-value opportunities and a great place to live, the state thrives.

MSU professor of economics and international relations Lisa D. Cook became the first Black woman to sit on the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors in its 108-year history. Visiting the Detroit Economic Club on Dec. 1, she reminded business leaders of the role played by innovation and productivity in economic growth and the resulting shift toward higher skills in manufacturing jobs. Education and opportunity support innovation and productivity — an economically powerful equation. And again, MSU is listening.

MSU is deeply involved in advanced technology research and development, often in collaboration with government and corporate partners. Our lovely campus has become a smarter, cleaner and more connected mobility environment with autonomous vehicles and associated technologies daily undergoing testing in a wide variety of real-world conditions. This ensures that technology works safely with pedestrians, other vehicles and infrastructure in a safe way, putting research into practice in a meaningful way.

So, how do we double down on the opportunities of our shared future? In this and so many other ways, MSU is acting.

In the tech-talent spirit of the MichAuto Summit, I am especially enthusiastic about plans for a new MSU engineering and digital teaching and research innovation center, which will help lead our efforts to steer the industries of the future. This facility will enhance MSU’s strengths in disciplines such as advanced mobility, material science, advanced manufacturing, quantum computing, composite materials and solar cell technology. Partnership in this center with the state of Michigan and industries that rely on our students, together with the governor’s new Michigan Achievement Scholarship program, is the leavening we need to see a rise in economic growth for all.

Entrepreneurs know success requires vision, investment and commitment. In MSU, the people of Michigan possess a formidable asset ready to seize the opportunities of the future. MSU looks forward to continuing our engagement with the state, our partners in higher education and the industries of our future in making Michigan a globally competitive place to live and work. We are listening, and we are doing, and as a state, we are rising.

Teresa K. Woodruff is Interim president of Michigan State University