Originally published February 10, 2016
By Lisa Y. Garibay
A forum that honored UTEP recipients of research grant funding exemplified the many student-enriching research experiences available at the University in fields far and wide.
The research forum presented by UTEP’s Office of Research and Sponsored Projects on Feb. 2 recognized more than 60 faculty members, administrators and their teams from colleges across campus for grant funding received from both within and outside of the University.
Ryan Wicker, Ph.D., professor of engineering and director of the University’s W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation, delivered the keynote address. The native El Pasoan founded the center in 2000 and has since grown it into the world’s largest hub for additive manufacturing – more commonly known as 3-D printing – technologies.
For the addictive manufacturing pioneer, 3-D printing is an easy sell.
“All you need to do is view a 3-D printing process to be inspired,” Wicker said. “They’re the coolest technologies on the planet.”
Wicker’s presentation described the revolution in 3-D printing over the past 15 years and the technology’s tremendous potential for impacting virtually every aspect of our daily lives, from printing human organs to satellites. Since its inception, the Keck Center has been a leader in pushing this technology beyond previously held conceptions in both commercial and scientific arenas.
Key to Wicker’s vision for the center was a training opportunity that would give students valuable career preparation ahead of their peers.
“As this industry has exponentially exploded, these students are being pulled into and becoming leaders in [it],” Wicker said. “Our center is world famous in these technologies and for what we do, and these students are a tremendous commodity, really sought after – all of them have job offers.”
As a research and cost center contracting with a number of non-UTEP entities, the dozens of students working at Keck at any given time learn real-world skills as they work directly with industry alongside their academic education.
“There’s a tremendous amount of learning going on in there in terms of project management,” Wicker said, adding that processes truly unique to the Keck Center, including the printing of multifunctional items (for instance, small satellites with embedded electronics), give students even stronger career preparation for the future.
Pragmatically, Wicker pointed out that the largest current user of 3-D printed materials is orthodontics company Invisalign, which has a large manufacturing facility just across the border in Juárez, Mexico.
Prior to the awards presentations and Wicker’s speech, UTEP President Diana Natalicio acknowledged how research opportunities contribute to strong career preparation for students, starting in their undergraduate years. While accepting an award of scholarship funds earlier that day from the Institute for Mexicans Abroad to help students from Mexico complete their degrees at UTEP, students told her that while they had not anticipated going beyond a bachelor’s, their immersion in research at the University inspired them to change plans and pursue a master’s or doctoral degree.
“You can see that we’re having a real impact on the way that young people think about the future that lies ahead for them, and that’s because of the inspiration and the great work that you [researchers] do,” President Natalicio said.
The Office of Research and Sponsored Projects presents research forums several times a year in tribute to the diligence, innovation and success of faculty and their research teams in obtaining competitive funding.
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