Smart energy, smart future
What NYSUNY 2020 means to Binghamton
4By the time this fall’s incoming freshmen graduate in 2016, Binghamton University will be bigger in size, economic impact and academic influence.
Student population will grow by 2,000, to 17,000, by admitting more freshmen, graduate and transfer students and improving retention rates. There will be new residence halls to accommodate them and 150 new faculty members to teach them. Forty-one of those positions have already been filled for fall.
A new building called the Smart Energy Research and Development Facility will be constructed at the Innovative Technologies Complex to better integrate energy research programs from across campus.
And those are just the signature pieces in Binghamton’s NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant that was presented to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in May and approved on Aug. 8.
The NYSUNY 2020 plan challenged SUNY’s four university centers to find a way to use the power and promise of research and innovation to help pull the state out of its economic malaise while ensuring access to a first-rate education for tomorrow’s labor force.
In return, each center would get an infusion of cash — $35 million in capital funds plus new operating revenues generated by a “rational tuition plan,” which lets the university centers charge more in recognition of the cost of educating students in a research institution.
Taking into account the additional faculty, support staff and construction-related workers, Binghamton’s initiative is expected to create more than 840 jobs over its five-year timeline and increase the University’s economic impact by $77.5 million annually. The University will be able to strengthen partnerships with industry and organizations across all disciplines to help students gain real-world experience through internships and fellowships. And the Smart Energy Research and Development program will brand Binghamton as a leader in green-energy research and development.
By 2017, the University’s impact on New York state is expected to reach $1 billion annually.
Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger said, “The entire Binghamton University community thanks Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Chancellor Nancy Zimpher for their help making Binghamton University’s NYSUNY 2020 proposal a reality. Approval of the challenge grant puts Binghamton University and the Southern Tier on an exciting path of growth. This plan will help us realize a number of goals that are important to New York state — to create jobs, enhance education and encourage research that drives new technologies. Most importantly, it will build on the synergy of our two main objectives, to enhance the academic quality of the University and have a significant economic impact on the Southern Tier. Binghamton University is proud that the governor and the chancellor value the work it is doing and have provided the opportunity to implement this progressive plan.”
Plans to increase enrollment and further strengthen the link between research programs and economic development were not created to satisfy the grant proposal; they have been part of Binghamton University’s strategic plan for years and were being implemented as budgets allowed. But with the challenge grant, administrators had incentive to dig into the numbers, refine the ideas and see if their proposals would withstand the scrutiny of the governor.
Each university chose a research component as the backbone of its plan. Binghamton’s is the Smart Energy Initiative, which promotes research, teaching and entrepreneurial activity in energy-related disciplines. Faculty members have been working for years on solar energy, fuel-cell technology, energy storage methods and improved efficiencies in computer and other electronic systems.
“Binghamton is already a leader in partnering with industry,” says Bahgat Sammakia, vice president for research. “The new Smart Energy R&D Facility will give a boost to our efforts to bring innovations to the marketplace, which we hope will result in new jobs for the area. Energy research is a natural focus for Binghamton, one that capitalizes on our existing strengths.”
Such research already aligns with the interests of New York and the nation.
In a report issued earlier this year by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), state investment in solar energy should result in the creation of 2,300 solar-industry jobs by 2025.
An example of Binghamton’s contribution is its participation in the Center for the Evaluation of Clean Energy, a consortium of businesses and research universities led by Intertek, a worldwide product-testing company with a facility in Cortland, N.Y.
In 2010, NYSERDA provided $4.4 million over five years for Intertek to establish renewable energy test and research centers to put wind and photovoltaic energy technologies through vigorous, real-life testing for small companies that can’t afford to do it themselves.
“The idea is to help companies with their product-improvement testing. One thing we do well is testing because we do it all the time,” says Professor Charles R. Westgate, director of the Center for Autonomous Solar Power. And the hope is that the consortium will become a resource that will attract renewable energy firms to locate in New York.
For Binghamton administrators, approval of the challenge grant gives them the tools to create an exciting future.
“This plan will allow us to hire 150 new faculty and hundreds of support staff — not just in alternative energy research, but across the University. It enables the creation of new academic programs and new opportunities for students. But most important, it will provide a significant boost to the local economy, fostering new high-paying jobs in high tech and sending ripples of growth to every sector of the economy,” Stenger says.
“Forgive the pun, but NYSUNY 2020 has the power to transform Binghamton University. Ten years from now, with more students and more faculty, the University will be able to respond quickly to emerging opportunities in research and education. And by helping Binghamton assume a lead role in alternative energy research, it will raise the University’s already impressive research profile. I can’t wait.”
Binghamton University has already made significant investments and advancements in smart energy research. In the accompanying stories, learn who’s doing the research and understand more about how some of the projects might affect our everyday lives.
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