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UWM-Johnson Controls partnership could be model for Lovell at Marquette
4/8/2014

As UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mike Lovell prepares to move to Marquette University, he's not ruling out recreating a research partnership similar to a successful one between UWM and Johnson Controls.

On Monday, Lovell and Johnson Controls' MaryAnn Wright told attendees at the Wisconsin Tech Summit about the existing partnership, which has generated seven patents, drawn more than $35 million in federal grant money and has created a path for promising UWM students to become Johnson Controls scientists.

"One of the great things about me going to Marquette is that I will be uniquely positioned to create partnerships that no one's ever thought of before," said Lovell, when asked about taking the idea to his position as president of Marquette. Lovell told reporters that he's well-acquainted with faculty at Marquette's engineering school, and had been approached, shortly before accepting the chancellorship at UWM, to consider a partnership between the two schools.

Wright, a vice president of engineering and product development, stressed that the partnership between UWM's College of Engineering and Johnson Controls will not end with Lovell's departure.

"This transcends Mike and I," she said. "We wanted a partnership that has such deep roots and is so meaningful that regardless of where we happen to be, it will continue to live on and thrive."

But she also did not rule out a future collaboration, noting that Johnson Controls has a research partnership with Milwaukee School of Engineering and also partners with UW-Madison to do battery and systems testing at the Wisconsin Energy Institute in Madison.

"We're happy to work with all of them," she said.

Wright and Lovell said the success of the UWM-Johnson Controls efforts has exceeded all expectations.

The idea started several years ago as a simple collaboration to improve the engineering curriculum. As it evolved, Johnson Controls built and furnished a "dry lab" on the UWM campus and sent eight of its staff scientists to work there daily, instead of at Johnson Controls plants.

The Johnson Controls engineers interact with students and faculty -- often leading to new discoveries. Johnson Controls retains the right to use any new technology arising from the lab, but will often allow the university scholars to publish their findings, Wright said.

"What a beautiful way to vet talent," said Wright, who said she has hired several UWM engineering grads since the program began in 2008. She said she believes the setup has also helped Johnson Controls retain its top researchers. "They are brilliant -- they could go anywhere," she said. "But they like being in the academic environment."

Lovell said the partnership has enhanced UWM as an academic institution.

"We're increasing our strength. So many opportunities have become available because we've partnered together, in terms of funding," he said. Lovell called the Johnson Controls research facility on campus a "world-class lab" and said it's the largest of its type on a campus nationwide.

He noted that Johnson Controls' also plans to fund an endowed chair position at UWM, a move that will raise the university's profile in research circles.

"What we are today is a 'co-location,' and if you can get to a co-location model, that's where the real magic happens," said Lovell. "R & D is changing. At universities, I think we all recognize that if we want to be successful in research going forward, partnering with industries is going to be very important."

He said UWM is beginning a similar "co-location" partnership with other companies at the university's new Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa, which is scheduled to open its doors soon.

"We'll be replicating the model," he said.

-- By Kay Nolan
For WisBusiness.com

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