Ohio State University: Workshop engages academic leaders to focus on Midwest’s semiconductor industry

A multibillion-dollar semiconductor fabrication center in the heart of the Midwest has opened a new opportunity for development, research and jobs, and leaders in higher education want to make sure they can support those opportunities.

This week, The Ohio State University, through the Office of Knowledge Enterprise, hosted a two-day workshop with members of some of the leading research universities in the region. The goal of the workshop was to assess regional needs and opportunities to support the expansion of the semiconductor industry in the so-called “Silicon Heartland.”

The workshop is a response to Intel’s commitment to invest more than $20 billion in the construction of two new leading-edge chip factories in central Ohio. The investment could grow to $100 billion in a decade.

Additionally, Intel will invest $50 million directly in Ohio higher education institutions. An additional $50 million from Intel will be matched by $50 million from the National Science Foundation in national funding opportunities. The investments will provide resources for creating new curriculums for associate and undergraduate degrees, certifications, faculty training, reskill and upskill programs for the existing workforce, laboratory equipment upgrades and research supporting semiconductor fabrication innovation.

Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson said she began calling higher education presidents in the region to see how they could begin collaborating to support the investment and research opportunities.

“How can we all come together to ensure Intel is successful?” she said. “Why don’t we show the country how we can truly get together and do something that will be unique?”

Leaders from a dozen colleges and universities in the Midwest, including Purdue University, University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame and Columbus State Community College, explored opportunities to form a regional network allowing the institutions to work in concert as government or industry opportunities develop from the Intel investment. Some of the areas of focus include workforce development, research and supply chain development activities.

Purdue Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships Theresa Mayer said workforce development, including for current university students and workers in need of retraining opportunities, would be critical.

“A real challenge for us is how do we really grab the hearts and the minds of students to really help elevate the importance of this area?” she said. “We have a tremendous opportunity to really be leaders and move the needle.”

Grace Wang, Ohio State’s executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge, said the growth of the semiconductor industry around the globe means the region will face a global competition for talent. And it becomes ever more critical to stay at the leading edge in semiconductor and microelectronics research and development. Through collaboration, Midwest universities are well positioned to contribute more.

“Let’s work together to figure out how to prepare such a large workforce,” Wang said.

Ohio State Vice President for Knowledge Enterprise Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska organized the event and developed workgroups to focus on the following areas:

Workforce and Manufacturing
Research and Innovation – Devices
Research and Innovation – Circuits/Architecture
Research and Innovation – Packaging/Integration
Infrastructure for Experiential Learning
Each workgroup analyzed its respective focus area and developed a series of recommendations to support future collaboration. Grejner-Brzezinska said those recommendations will spark future communication and partnership.

“In my mind, the most important point I’m taking from this is there is a lot of willingness to continue. So, let’s keep the momentum going. Let’s keep the discussion going,” she said.

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