Tech Rally focuses on making connections

As an expert in wireless communications, Ram Narayanan looks for innovative ways to bring people together. His latest effort may foster relationships between local businesses and Penn State, and help students gain experience in tackling real-world problems.

On Tuesday at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, Narayanan introduced the State College Area Radio Frequency Consortium to a room of industry professionals as part of the Happy Valley Technology Rally, the Pennsylvania Wireless Association’s spring education event. The rally covered the “Internet of Things,” or a world where just about anything can be connected to the internet, be it a washing machine or an entire city’s infrastructure.

“It won’t be the ‘Internet of Things;’ it will just be things,” said Jim Penna, regional director of external affairs with AT&T and one of the event’s speakers. “It’s not tomorrow; it’s now.”

It’s that sweeping premise that led Narayanan to spearhead an education-industry partnership in Happy Valley. The consortium, dubbed SCARF, brought together several State College-area tech companies, in addition to researchers from Penn State’s College of Engineering, Applied Research Laboratory and Materials Research Institute.

Narayanan, a professor of electrical engineering at the university, told the crowd that although the initial meeting, held in early March, included only local companies, the offer is being extended throughout the state and beyond.

“Penn State has a big reservoir of talent that local industry can tap into, and we also want to learn from you,” he said. “It’s not a one-way street, because we want to learn what are the real problems that engineers face, and we want to prepare our students to respond to those challenges. Not just esoteric research that you find out in 15 or 20 years, but something that you need today or tomorrow.”

The Tech Rally, Narayanan said, was an opportunity to build additional relationships that would benefit all stakeholders.

Through internships, students would be able to work with local professionals, he said, while the companies would gain from Penn State’s expertise in research and wealth of resources. Penn State, meanwhile, would be better able to prepare students for their future careers.

The National Science Foundation also offers a number of funding opportunities related to industry-university partnerships, Narayanan added. But getting on the same wavelength is a personal investment, he said, as much as it is a pecuniary one.

“I think it’s the view of engineering faculty to not just go after the big grants, but also reach out to local industry,” Narayanan said.