Northwest Indiana’s colleges offer competitive path to success
Neeti Parashar, a professor of physics at Purdue University Northwest, exemplifies how great scholars at our Region’s universities and colleges can equip and prepare students for rich and impactful careers. Parashar’s work has contributed to the discovery of properties of the subatomic particle known as the top quark — considered one of the elementary particles in the building blocks of matter. Parashar is not an isolated scholar hidden from view. She shares this scholarly journey with the next generation of scientists — her students.
While high-quality secondary education and community colleges are essential to the success of our children, cutting-edge research and training provided by institutions of higher education will permit Northwest Indiana to grow and thrive.
Like students, faculty must engage in continuous learning. The process of learning involves designing and testing new theories, creating new materials and building new knowledge. Faculty who actively engage in research and scholarship, need to be at the forefront of their disciplines. For research to be published and applied, scholars must employ the latest methodology and build on existing knowledge. Northwest Indiana professors produce vital research that impacts not only the Region but the nation and the world.
The faculties at our Region’s colleges and universities are deeply committed to engaging students in their work. For students to take part in that work, faculty must teach them the necessary skills and tools to make contributions.
As it turns out, many of our top teachers are also our top researchers. These individuals understand that the days of rote memorization are over. Students must learn how to learn and thus create knowledge or find solutions. Researchers teach students what questions to develop and ask. They also teach students how to identify the missing pieces in current knowledge and understanding. Researchers expose students to the excitement and reward of finding answers to difficult problems.
As I regularly say to my staff: if you bring me a problem, provide a solution or two.
The Region’s faculty are distinguished in both pure research and applied research.
Pure research focuses on the theoretical and abstract. Applied research seeks answers to questions that will have an immediate or near-term benefit to Northwest Indiana. We confront a range of challenges, including economic development, environmental concerns, health care needs, race relations and educational reforms. Given that most of our college and university graduates will remain in the area, it makes sense to equip these future workers with the skills and problem-solving tools to develop solutions. Seen in this light, faculty research then connects to student skill development, which in turn connects to solving the challenges of the Region.
Studies examining future workforce development trends tell a similar story: a very large percentage of jobs that will be available in just 10 or 15 years have not been invented yet. Manufacturing always will be valued and an important part of the economy, but changes in technology will continuously alter the way products are made and assembled.
The fast food industry is moving toward automated production of hamburger patties that are cooked and prepared by robots and not humans. We must realize that equipping future workers with the skills to invent and design the process is where the labor will land, not on the flipping of burgers by hand.
Today’s university faculty and students are doing just this kind of research.
For example, Brandon Stieve and Josh Miranda are local students majoring in chemistry and physics. Under the supervision of their professor, Kathryn Rowberg, the two students designed a project titled, “Water Quality of Waterways in Northwest Indiana: Microplastics and Fly Ash.” Microplastics in water, including drinking water, is a significant issue. The study sheds new light on developments in Lake Michigan and local waterways and rivers.
This topic, and the collaboration between research faculty and students, illuminates the ongoing and important work at our Region’s universities and colleges.
We are on the right track.