Research gives MSU a global footprint

September 7, 2012 12:20:54 PM



STARKVILLE -- While David Shaw walked down the halls of a United Nations building in Rome last year, on his way to a conference hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization, a host escorting his group told Shaw that there was someone he needed to meet.  


"It was a black gentleman from Ghana," he recalled. "He shook my hand and told me that he graduated from Mississippi State.  


"So here I am walking down the halls at the UN in Rome, and I run into a Bulldog. Just crazy." 


Really though, crazy isn't a very accurate description. 


As the Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Mississippi State University, Shaw knows how big of an impact the university has had and continues to have on a seemingly endless variety of industries, organizations and governmental bodies that span the globe.  


With a Carnegie Research status and a high ranking by the National Science Foundation for research and development expenditures, MSU's research mission is clearer than ever, says MSU Journalist in Residence Sid Salter . 


"(Research and development) is at unprecedented heights right now," he said. "And the real world is showing us unprecedented results." 


In accordance with the Morrill Act of 1862, MSU and other land grant universities were established under condition to promote the teaching of "practical" fields such as agriculture, science and engineering. 


"The research at a land grant institution is state-mandated as a primary function," Salter said. "But the real hope is that your research translates into service." 


Research at MSU has done just that, said Salter, who points to more than 7000 jobs created in the state in the past decade that can be attributed to research, either directly or indirectly conducted by the university. 






The game-changer 


Companies such as Lockheed Martin, General Motors, GE Aviation, American Eurocopter, Sitel and Stark Aerospace have all solicited MSU's assistance on various levels, and these names barely scratch the surface of the school's list of clients. 


Though the university has been doing research since its humble beginnings, Shaw said the creation of the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) really helped bring some national and global exposure to MSU researchers.  


According to Shaw, a successful attempt to lure Nissan with a research and outreach center that could not only do specialized analysis, but also be able prepare a workforce was the reason behind the founding of CAVS, which has a location in Starkville, as well as in Canton, where Nissan's main plant is located.  


"Nissan was a game changer for the state," he said. "I have had more than one person tell me (CAVS) research and outreach potential is what won it for Mississippi." 


Nissan has provided a rarely-matched boost to Mississippi's economy, both through creating jobs and attracting other companies and industries, and all of this is in part thanks to CAVS, which boasts an estimated state economic impact over $5 billion since 2006. 


Salter said the real market impact is undeniable with many of CAVS projects. One example is the EcoCar, which was developed as part of national competition for graduate and undergraduate researchers. 


"When you start talking about putting together a retrofitted GM vehicle that gets 180 miles to the gallon, that has value in the market," he said. 


Military contracts have played a large role in putting CAVS on the map as well. Vehicle production and testing has put the institute at the forefront of some of the United States military's state-of-the-art projects. This includes developing the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles that have been used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq. 


But Shaw said, "one of the things we are most excited about for the future is the growth of unmanned aircraft systems." 


The state, in conjunction with MSU, is going after these contracts with full force, and both are trying to line the state up to win one of the test sites for the UAVs, which Shaw said would be located at the Stennis Space Center on the Gulf Coast. 


"Companies will be locating down there to have access to that flight zone," he said. "It would be huge." 




Up in the air 


Aviation has been a newer strong suit for research and development at MSU, and with the help of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has helped temporarily house companies like GE Aviation in incubator sites the university began implementing in the 80s. 


Shaw said he works extremely close with MDA, talking to someone from the organization, "at least every week, if not every day." 


According to Shaw, who will occasionally accompany MDA on company recruiting trips said having incubator sites available immediately is an important selling point that he thinks has sealed the deal on several companies throughout his years as vice president. 


"These companies always want a local presence as soon as possible," Shaw said. "When MDA calls and says, 'a company is coming tomorrow, can you tour?' We drop everything and ready our pristine looking spaces so the company can better visualize themselves their. 


"We always try to make sure we have space available." 




Agricultural impact 


Next Monday, MSU will host some of the world's leading experts, researchers and policy makers at "Technology Implementation at the Local Level: Food Security for the Future," a conference addressing global food safety and security issues.  


Among others, former MSU grad and Technical Director for Rural Prosper Consultoria Sebastio Barbosa will be sharing success stories on how Brazil, with the help of MSU and other institutions, has moved from a third world country to a developing country thanks in part to seed technology and plant breeding developments. 


As the state's "ag college," MSU has played a key role in seed technology and countless other agricultural research projects over its history. But with the USDA reporting last year that nearly one in every six Americans are food insecure, unsure where their next meal will come from, problems that once seemed third world are now affecting countries on every continent.  


The agricultural research conducted at MSU is probably some of the most significant and affecting a wider range of people than any other research, but Salter said because these issues aren't "sexy" they often get overlooked. 


"Just in Mississippi, our seed technology developments have helped facilitate the growth and stabilization of the state's largest cash crop, the poultry industry," he said. "Our forestry department is making strides with the stream-lining of the conversion of raw timber into furniture. Both of these industries are enormous." 




Closer to home 


Research and development at MSU is making a difference on a national and even global level, and Shaw said he hopes that people, especially those who live in Oktibbeha County, understand that the Office for Research and Development and the facilities it monitors are for the benefit of the entire state first and foremost.  


But Shaw added that he and the rest of his staff never forget that their home is in Starkville and Oktibbeha County, and he thinks the citizens will really begin to see the results of work on the larger scale bring positive change on a smaller scale. 


He pointed to the development of an addition to the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park. 


"Phase 2 is under full-scale development, and we should be able to drive on the new four-lane boulevard later this month," Shaw said. "There is an explosion of things happening in Starkville. It is really about to snowball." 


There may not be a snowball of economic development in every county in Mississippi, but the Carl Small Town Center, a research arm of the College of Art, Architecture and Design is doing its part to help spur growth in the rural communities that saturate the state. 


Brad Mallet, a senior architecture student, worked for the Carl Small Town Center this summer. 


"We just try our best to find ways to benefit the small communities of this state," he said. "Stuff like research on how small towns have been affected by the highway system." 


Shaw said many smaller communities in Mississippi don't have the wherewithal to be attractive in and of themselves. 


"We try to step in and say, 'your primary problems are beautification, ineffective utilities systems and your local government isn't considered business friendly,'" Shaw said. "Then we just give them advice on how to address these issues, we are just the experienced outsider." 


Clay Walden, Director and Research Professor at the CAVS Extension office in Canton, said it is when the efforts of research for big business and development for small communities are combined, an economy can really begin to boom.  


"We have a strong emphasis on strengthening communities," he said. "The automotive cluster is obviously a focus, as well as furniture manufacturing. 


"We just have to develop a network of local suppliers that can provide raw goods and materials that these large corporations need. That is when you really see growth." 


These are just vague examples of an increasingly visible and intricate research and development system that has sparked interest, excitement and pride in the possibilities that not only MSU offers, but the state. 


For a state that struggles in national categories like education, obesity and teen pregnancy, the potential for more money to put towards programs to quell these issues should be a welcomed assistance, and Mississippi State University is glad to help.