Higher Ed

Academic & Business Collaborations

Discover how three New Jersey institutions of higher education are partnering with businesses and assisting them with their workforce and entrepreneurial needs.

New Jersey’s halls of academia and corporate suites are merging interests like never before to provide students with real-world connections.

In the best of scenarios, those interactions become jobs.

At Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah, a career development program called “Pathways’’ prepares new students for internships – many of them paid – starting the summer after their sophomore year.

At Rider University in Lawrence Township, an array of executive advisory councils made up of trusted industry professionals help educators focus on building students’ applied career skills and connections to business executives.

At Princeton University, the nearby Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs provides space for science startups and furthers the Ivy League institution’s educational goals – while assisting entrepreneurial efforts to turn research and technological innovations into beneficial commercial applications.

More and more, as costs of higher education have skyrocketed in recent decades within an evolving and fluctuating job market, the emphasis is for students to have employable – even entrepreneurial – skills upon graduating or earning post-graduate degrees.

“When I meet with parents during orientations and admissions events, the one question they’re asking me is, ‘My son or daughter is going to get this degree. So, what kind of jobs will they have?’’’ says LaQuan Norman, director of the Career Center at Ramapo College.

Nationwide, estimates are that 55% of students are unemployed or under-employed right after graduation, she notes.

“The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to have an internship, or two,’’ explains Norman. “Companies are looking for entry-level jobs for people with one-to-three years of experience. … Book learning is one thing, but actually doing the job is another.’’

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramapo is utilizing the digital world to keep its students in touch with businesses, promoting virtual job fairs, remote internships, and online employment interviews.

Ramapo also seeks to increase its relationships with Fortune 500 companies – jumping from 20 to 50 big-name firms that interact with its students in recent years.

Additionally, Ramapo strongly encourages mentorship programs for its students and business partners, including a long-standing arrangement with KPMG.

“The mentor gets to see the next generation of students coming out,’’ explains Angela Cristini, a college vice president for institutional advancement who heads the Ramapo College Foundation. “The mentee gets the advice of the person who’s in the field and actually working day to day.”

Further south, Rider University also has created symbiotic relationships with numerous businesses to help its students start professional careers. At the same time, Rider offers these firms access to a pool of potential employees and certificate courses for their workers in specialized disciplines, like supply chain management.

“Of course, industry has always been a part of our whole mission because we’re training our students to be the best decision-makers, leaders and contributors when they graduate – as part of industry,’’ says Eugene Kutcher, dean of Rider’s Norm Brodsky College of Business. “But more and more, we’re thinking of creative ways to involve industries.’’

One example is “micro-internships,’’ which allow students to help companies with a particular issue, like assisting small businesses with contact-tracing procedures during the pandemic, Kutcher explains.

In addition to the executive advisory councils that foster university connections between students and business leaders, Rider has established university partnership programs that provide benefits to businesses. For example, these include tuition discounts for company employees, access to cultural and sporting events, and ads on the campus radio station.

Conversely, Kutcher says the input from business executives has helped Rider update its curriculum to offer more courses in key areas to help students land good-paying jobs: Communications – written and oral – and analytics skills.

Rider also helps students enhance their appreciation for equity, sustainability and accountability – attributes employers also say they want in employees, Kutcher notes.

Career planning is another part of Rider’s required curriculum to help students focus on life after graduation.

“A lot of us feel that’s an ethical responsibility,’’ Kutcher explains. “Students need to have skills that will set them up for careers that motivate them, careers that allow them to pay off the costs of that education.’’

Princeton University, meanwhile, has made an accelerated push within the past decade to engage with businesses to benefit students and its research initiatives.

“President (Christopher) Eisgruber and the trustees thought … it was very important for the university to get out beyond its walls,” explains Coleen Burrus, Princeton’s director of corporate engagement and foundation relations. “How can we make more of a societal impact with what we’re doing [with] research inside our walls?”

The roughly 30,000-square-foot Princeton Innovation Center is a partnership with BioLabs, which manages similar incubators around the nation, and helps Princeton faculty, graduate and post-doctoral students with startup companies.

Life sciences, clean technology, materials and energy startups are among the approximately 40 business initiatives at the center, which also provides space to non-university entrepreneurs in the state.

Rodney Priestley, Princeton’s vice dean for innovation and a professor of chemical and biological engineering, says the growing interaction between academics and businesses advances student career opportunities.

“By the simple fact that we have more students who are supported in their research through industry partners, I know that actually leads to greater job opportunities for our students,” Priestley says.

In late August, an announcement came that Princeton University would lead a new National Science Foundation–funded Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Hub with other regional universities. The goal is to provide researchers entrepreneurial help to form new companies that create cutting-edge products and services from laboratory discoveries.

Another endeavor close to campus, the Princeton Entrepreneurial Hub, serves as an educational setting and startup incubator with space for students – including undergraduates – along with faculty, staff and alumni.

Princeton also recently helped the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) bring the Hax accelerator program to Newark, which plans to invest $25 million in 100 tech companies focusing on “re-industrialization and decarbonization of the US,” according to the university.

Burrus says Princeton University supports NJEDA’s efforts to recruit businesses to the state, in part by showcasing the depth and breadth of higher-education institutions in New Jersey and their respective student talent pools.

“We talk about it as the ‘Triple Helix’ of industry, government and universities working together,’’ explains Burrus. “That’s what’s really going to propel economic development in our state.’’

To access more business news, visit NJB News Now.

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