Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Practice Labs enables ASU students to focus on solutions for industry partners

By David Schwartz
Published: September 22nd, 2020

A detailed article on ASU’s Practice Labs model of student-industry engagement appears in the September issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor.  For subscription information, click here.

Like many other research universities Arizona State has been active in programs that link students experientially with industry partners, such as capstone projects and internships. However, about three years ago ASU took a major step beyond those traditional approaches with the creation of Practice Labs.

Practice Labs distinguishes itself from these more traditional approaches in several ways: For example, corporate sponsors can narrow or expand the time limits of a project based on their needs. As a result, instead of just one or two students, many more can be involved. Mix in extensive faculty and leadership involvement, and you have the key ingredients of the formula for ASU’s original approach to student-industry engagement.

Practice Labs, explains Jon Relvas, MBA, director of business development for corporate engagement and strategic partnerships within ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, “expands the vision of the project to something transformational for the industry partner.”

Corporate sponsors can choose from a wide variety of Practice Lab programs, including software design and development, drone technology, data science, interior design, prototype development, and product redesign. Interested industry partners begin by contacting ASU’s Corporate Engagement and Strategic Partnerships team, and together they explore the needs and goals of the company. The partner will then be linked with the “best-aligned” students as well as key faculty members or project managers.

A Practice Labs project can “live” within one of two organizations — an academic unit, or the Luminosity Lab, an interdisciplinary research and development lab “driven by a hand-selected team of high-performing students.”

“If the Practice Lab is within a university unit, there is a faculty leader,” Relvas explains. “Luminosity Lab allows for multi-disciplinary projects. It can incorporate a lot of expertise across campus, depending on the project. That really helps define how the project can move forward.”

Luminosity Lab leadership and directors manage projects using an “agile scrum” approach, he continues, working with a liaison on the industry side for mentorship. The leaders, Relvas explains, “will iterate with the sponsor every two weeks or so to stay in the mix and know where things are going.”

There was no model for the Practice Labs, says Relvas. “It’s brand new to us,” he asserts. “The whole point is workforce development and applied experience, becoming part of the pipeline with industry potentially hiring those students.”

A Practice Lab project, he explains, is different from a capstone project or an internship in a number of other ways. For example, he points out, “the scope of work developed with a sponsor [is designed to] achieve something for them that is transformational — a moonshot. Not the things they live in today from their mission, but a vision going forward.”

In addition, he continues, “there is a formal scope of work with business outcomes.” This, he adds, “is a flagship concept to work with ASU students since capstones are more long-term, student-focused projects.”

The time commitment for the program is also very flexible, Relvas adds. “It can run for three months, or more like practice studies it can be sponsored for an entire year.”

In short, each project is driven by the industry partner. “It starts with research; companies are bringing something new to the market, or they themselves are looking to ASU as an academic proof point,” he says. “The research component is probably the biggest part of the program from a value perspective. We are neutral to what they’re trying to do, plus there is a wide expanse of expertise to teach it and explore it.”

On the back side of the project the corporate engagement team discusses its value with the industry partners, and “we can also start an intellectual property discussion, depending on the role ASU had,” Relvas notes.

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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