Clarkson to boost role in Schenectady-area entrepreneurial community

President gives update two years after North Country university absorbed Union Graduate College
Clarkson University President Anthony Collins, left, speaks at a luncheon at the New York BizLab on Thursday.
Clarkson University President Anthony Collins, left, speaks at a luncheon at the New York BizLab on Thursday.

SCHENECTADY — Clarkson University’s absorption of Union Graduate College two years ago has been a success and the North Country school plans to expand its profile in the Capital Region, its president said Thursday.

The merger with UGC, he said, gave Clarkson the larger graduate student body it needed as well as science/math-oriented training programs for teachers that will help feed a stream of future engineers into the American workforce.

Tony Collins, president of Potsdam-based Clarkson, was the featured speaker at one of the monthly entrepreneur luncheons at the New York BizLab on State Street. The series is co-sponsored by Clarkson; co-host Bela Mustis, a professor of entrepreneurship at Clarkson, was interim president of Union Graduate College during the transition period.

While Collins focused on the subject of entrepreneurship, he also veered into discussion of how the Schenectady experience has gone in the last two years for Clarkson. 

“We are tremendously excited about what’s happened here,” he said.

When UGC broached the idea to Clarkson, Clarkson had about 600 to 700 graduate students, which a consultant had informed them was not enough for a strong graduate program. Collins said it took about five minutes to tell UGC that Clarkson was interested, and only 12 months to complete the transition.

“We were ready, so ready, because our thinking [was] we need a graduate school and graduate infrastructure.”

Collins had seen the success of executive programs at other engineering schools and was interested in moving into that space, but thought that to accomplish this, Clarkson would need a geographic footprint beyond the sparsely populated North Country.

“We know that there was a demand. And yet it’s a little difficult to run executive programs — you do need some face-to-face.”

Clarkson also added graduate programs in Beacon, in the lower Hudson Valley.

With UGC, Clarkson gained a teacher training program with a strong focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the building blocks of the engineer’s mind.

“For us, the master of arts in teaching is just a wonderful entree to give us a pipeline where we’re now influencing the teachers that teach the kids in K-12 that we want,” Collins said. “We’re hoping to teach the teachers of STEM.”

He said Clarkson plans to move its efforts beyond the classroom and into the business community, working for example with young entrepreneurs and startups.

“We’ll … become even more of a partner within the community,” he said. “That’s an important role for us we feel very deeply.”

Joining Collins at Thursday’s event was Jamey Hoose, director of Clarkson’s Shipley Center of Innovation, which has helped launch more than 60 student startups, filed more than 100 patents, and raised more than $12 million in capital.

Hoose told The Daily Gazette that he’s met with a few entrepreneurs in Schenectady but so far has been more active in Saratoga County.

“Spark Saratoga is probably our most mature initiative here in the Capital District,” he said, referring to a program of the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. that supports local entrepreneurs as they attempt to bring ideas to market. “We have four or five companies that we’re working with up there, and several of them are reaching the point where we’re really ready for product launch.”

The Shipley Center provides technical resources to these companies — computer-aided design by interns, for example, or engineering assistance from a faculty member.

It’s similar to what Clarkson does in the North Country near its main campus, he said, but with a larger and more diverse community of businesses, entrepreneurs and people aspiring to be both.

Spark Saratoga is part of the Capital Region’s Innovation Hotspot, a state economic development program. The Shipley Center is the Innovation Hotspot for the North Country.

Hoose, who is spending a couple of days a week in the Schenectady area, said Clarkson isn’t trying to become an economic development agency.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re slowly expanding,” he said, “because we want to support what all these other [Capital Region] organizations are doing. There’s some great organizations doing some fantastic work supporting entrepreneurs. We don’t want to step on toes … we want to build an economic ecosystem and support that ecosystem. And that’s what we’re doing in the North Country.”

He noted that there are a lot more resources in the Capital Region than in the North Country.

Clarkson’s president spoke about the university’s role in shaping the students who will be the next wave of entrepreneurs and inventors.

Collins, who traces his roots all the way back to the first shipload of female convicts that England banished to Australia, said one of the things he’s liked about Clarkson since becoming an assistant professor there 37 years ago is that it’s a determined little school that tries to achieve beyond its scale — much like his homeland.

To that end, he tries to build the competitive spirit through the President’s Challenge, an annual on-campus design contest, and through entries in broader competitions against other schools. 

Winning and losing are both educational and motivational, a big win all the more so.

Last year, Clarkson topped 90 other schools in an international aeronautical design-build-fly competition in Kansas, he noted.

In a small community of like-minded students, the effect of such a victory spreads far beyond the winning team, Collins said.

“It’s allowing students to succeed, fail, and really feel the fruits of victory,” he said. “That becomes addictive to the rest of the campus when they see that.”

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