Backed by nearly $5 million in state and federal funding, Rowan University’s Henry M. Rowan School of Engineering officially launched its Center of Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Engineering Systems Wednesday afternoon, heralding the new research and development facility as a game-changer for both the fast-growing university and South Jersey’s economic future.
“We are creating jobs, we are creating the kind of technology that results in more original businesses, startups, transportation innovation, and all of this is exactly the mission of the university,” said Rowan’s President Ali Houshmand, who left his role as Drexel University’s associate provost for academic affairs and dean of the Goodwin College of Professional Studies in 2006 to lead the Glassboro academic institution into a rapid growth period.
CREATEs, as the center is referred to, and its accelerated pavement testing facility is housed in a 50-by-90 foot hangar at the South Jersey Technology Park. It contains the center’s prize gem — a 100,000-pound heavy vehicle simulator that can replicate 10 years of wear and tear on highway surfaces in just six months. It’s the only simulator of its kind in the northeastern U.S. to call an academic institution home.
The feedback the simulator provides on the viability of different pavement mixtures is crucial for government agencies, manufacturers, contractors, engineers and anyone with a stake in the nation’s infrastructure, said E. David Lambert, an assistant commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. NJDOT funded CREATEs along with the U.S. Department of Defense, Army Corps of Engineers and the state.
“This is precisely the 21st-Century technology we need,” said Lambert. “Rowan stands ready to join the elite transportation and research institutions in America.”
The facility will also be able to recreate the high heat and frigid winters that prove to be the biggest challenge for the region’s roadways, which was also a major draw for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Cold Regions Research and Engineer Laboratory, or CRREL, to partner up with CREATEs and share innovations that could influence CRREL’s work in remote regions around the globe, said Jared Oren, a supervisory engineer at CRREL.
“Our teams together are more than the sum of our parts,” said Oren.
In its first five to 10 years, officials estimate CREATEs will bring five to 10 professional employees on board, and in the immediate future, offer hands-on research experience for Rowan’s students in both undergraduate and graduate courses. Houshmand said it will also provide another selling point to help Rowan draw the nation’s top talent to South Jersey.
“This is going to put this campus and southern New Jersey on the map as a major research institution that attracts scientists and engineers from anywhere in the world to study and create and do wonderful things,” said Houshmand.
He stressed the public backing for the project, and Rowan’s status as a public university, as driving factors in making sure all of the knowledge that comes out of the center accelerates innovation for the common good.
“We really have no interest in just doing research for the sake of it… and end up writing papers that will get put on a bookshelf and nobody cares,” Houshmand told the crowd of stakeholders, students, faculty, staff and local officials gathered at the Route 322 facility. “We are a state institution paid for by the taxpayers and it is incumbent on us to return to the taxpayers the benefit of the investment.”
It’s far from the only major initiative Rowan has taken on since Houshmand traded University City’s bustling streets for Gloucester County’s suburban neighborhoods and sprawling rural landscapes ten years ago.
The school has rapidly expanded its student body, increasing its total enrollment from 9,578 undergraduate and graduate students in the fall of 2006 to more than 16,100 this year, with an ultimate goal of reaching 25,000 students by 2023. It has increased degree programs, launched a medical school, partnered with two South Jersey community colleges to increase accessibility and expanded its overall research operating budget from $180,000 in 2007 to $1.7 million in 2016, which are among dozens of other developments.
Tony Lowman, dean of the engineering school, said CREATEs wouldn’t have come to fruition — or have been able to draw millions in public funding — if it wasn’t for Rowan’s long-term efforts to transform a once sleepy South Jersey school known for its education studies programs into an academic powerhouse. The pitch for the center would’ve been met with pushback and hesitation in many other institutions, said Lowman, but that wasn’t the case at Rowan.
“What I got was ‘Your plan isn’t big enough, go back and give me something bigger and grander that has a bigger impact,’” said Lowman. “We got that today.”
- Date Published: September 15, 2016 – 12:32PM EDT
- Author: Michelle Caffrey
- Publisher: Philadelphia Business Journal
- Source: With $5M in funding, Rowan University launches major research and development center