The Intersection

myFutureNC Blog Series: A Board Member Q&A with Kevin Howell, Vice Chancellor for External Affairs, Partnerships, and Economic Development, NC State University

May 27, 2020

The ability of North Carolina’s institutions of higher education to prepare an industry-ready workforce has become increasingly important in attracting business to our state. We spoke with Kevin Howell, Vice Chancellor for External Affairs, Partnerships and Economic Development at NC State University and a member of the myFutureNC Board of Directors to learn more about how universities drive economic development and ways in which ongoing partnerships with the business community support postsecondary attainment in North Carolina.

In November of 2019, NC State was awarded the Association of Public and Land-Grant UniversitiesInnovation & Economic Prosperity- Economic Engagement Connections award, the Association’s top overall prize for economic engagement. How has NC State been so effective in partnering with local and national businesses to foster attainment and economic opportunity?

I’ve said before that winning this award is like winning a national championship. We were honored to be considered, and it’s a testament to the hard work and commitment this University has made to help our partners across North Carolina and the United States.  In fiscal year 2019 alone, NC State’s economic development partnerships created 5,035 jobs and were responsible for $1.25 billion in capital investment across North Carolina. The University has been committed to developing talent, fostering innovation, and investing in community development, three things that are critical in increasing postsecondary attainment in North Carolina.

One of NC State’s most effective partnerships in increasing postsecondary attainment is the Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC), established through a partnership with the Golden LEAF Foundation. Founded to help establish, attract, and expand biomanufacturing in North Carolina, BTEC has been training workers for the Triangle’s rapidly growing pharmaceutical industry since 2007. In addition to providing undergraduate and graduate coursework in biomanufacturing, BTEC offers working professionals an opportunity to engage in job-focused training led by industry experienced instructors. The Center is currently helping respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by creating hand sanitizer.

The University is also very focused on entrepreneurship as a tool for hands-on learning and creating new businesses.  NC State has helped launch 170 startup companies that have attracted more than $1.6 billion in venture capital to North Carolina’s economy and created over 8,500 jobs across the state.

How can other institutions of higher education work to replicate NC State’s success in building innovative partnerships with industry and government to drive postsecondary attainment?

Public-private partnerships between institutions of higher education and the business community represent an excellent opportunity to both support economic development and meet North Carolina’s postsecondary attainment goal. It begins with putting in the time to engage with community stakeholders to identify industry need. By listening to the needs of the business community, we can design programs that meet their needs while providing our students with hands-on learning opportunities. NC State’s recent efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are a great example of this – creating unique solutions to support the military and our industry partners while providing critical resources to our health care workers and communities.

Industry and government organizations can utilize university resources to support economic development in a number of ways, including sponsoring faculty research, hiring student interns, and supporting Senior Design Projects, or identifying space in our facilities. In many cases, opportunities provided to students through these partnerships lead to gainful employment following graduation.

These partnerships can often strengthen the university community broadly. For example, NC State and Eastman Chemical Company recently renewed a master research agreement that commits $10 million to the University. In addition to funding research that supports hands-on coursework for both graduate and undergraduate students, the company has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in graduate student recruitment, undergraduate ambassadors, student organizations, events, and lectures. These partnerships are important tools for North Carolina’s higher education institutions in both increasing postsecondary attainment and supporting broader institutional programming.

We know that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the University – how has NC State responded to this crisis?

Under the leadership of Chancellor Randy Woodson, the NC State community has come together in extraordinary ways during this unprecedented time for our campus and for campuses around the country. For example, NC State’s College of Engineering and Wilson College of Textiles have stepped up to develop innovative solutions.

Through our Nonwovens Institute, the University has created a new material to serve as an effective filter in surgical and N95 masks without the need for additional filtration layers. These materials have been delivered to our partners across the country to manufacture critically needed equipment. NC State has donated material to companies including Brooks Brothers and Hanes, as well as to the U.S. Army, to name a few. Brooks Brothers is making 500,000 masks for the U.S. Navy using our material. The 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, is sewing 100,000 masks using the same equipment they use to create parachutes.

Students in our College of Engineering are working alongside UNC-Chapel Hill medical students and Duke University engineers to produce 40,000 face shields that can be used by health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. We are also working with UNC-Chapel Hill to provide face masks for pediatric patients at the NC Children’s Hospital, part of UNC Health System. And NC State researchers are using 3D printing to make face shields for health care workers at Raleigh’s WakeMed hospital. These are just a few examples of how the Wolfpack family has come together to make an impact on our community. I know that NC State will continue to find innovative ways to meet the needs of our students and our state during these trying times.


Kevin Howell
Vice Chancellor for External Affairs, Partnerships, and Economic Development,
NC State University

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