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TE Connectivity Partnership Celebration

Building stronger connections

Top Keystone State employer partners with Lehigh University to bolster R&D — and the PA economy

To a major multinational engineering firm dedicated to developing and perfecting connections, the development of a longlasting, fruitful academic-industrial partnership on Lehigh University’s bucolic Bethlehem campus was a walk in the park.

TE Connectivity is very likely the largest company you’ve never heard of; just as likely is the fact that your daily existence relies on products designed, developed and marketed by its 75,000-strong workforce across 150 countries.

“The breadth of TE’s exposure to the engineering needs of industry is astounding,” says Stephen DeWeerth, professor and dean of Lehigh’s P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. “Its connectors and sensors are embedded in products and systems most of us take for granted—where constant data, power, sensing and connectivity keep our lives humming smoothly. It’s a firm that serves clients across heavy industry, automotive manufacturing, data communication systems, aerospace, defense, oil and gas, consumer electronics, and energy systems, many of whom have highly-specialized needs. With major engineering and manufacturing operations right down the road in Harrisburg, TE’s profile has been, and continues to be, a perfect fit, and allows students and faculty to remain on the cutting-edge of our field.”

According to Kathleen Ambrose, Vice President, Global Government Affairs and Corporate Responsibility at TE Connectivity, the company’s three-decade involvement with the Rossin College has evolved over time, and supported the firm’s growth and transformation along the way.

“The Lehigh-TE connection is a great example of how industry-academic partnerships contribute to the bottom line as well as the local and regional economies,” says Ambrose. “TE needs to be nimble as it adapts to ever-changing realities of our marketplace. Partnerships with schools like Lehigh allow us to explore what tomorrow may bring—and solve vexing technical issues our clients are experiencing today.”

Yet Ambrose reports that the benefit extends beyond the firm’s R&D requirements. “Through our support of research and student learning, we enjoy access to some of the world’s sharpest young minds. And when we are able to employ those budding innovators right here in the Keystone State post-graduation, the entire community benefits.” According to Ambrose, throughout its 30+ year relationship with Lehigh, the firm has supported “countless” students, and has hired graduates at all levels.

“This partnership was born of manufacturing research and education programs,” says John Coulter, professor and associate dean for research and operations in Lehigh’s P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, “but has evolved to include aspects of electrical and computer engineering and materials science, to name a few.”

“Our TE Connectivity partnership has helped make our College strong,” Coulter continues. “We are better researchers and teachers when we are ‘wired in’ directly to the pressing issues of our field. It helps produce patentable technologies, it makes Ph.D. candidates as strong as they can possibly be, and it provides real-world insight to undergraduates just encountering the field.”

According to Coulter, there’s another piece to this partnership that cannot be overstated. “By working so closely with a Pennsylvania firm, we are able to engage in opportunities to pursue research funding made available by the State that require in-state leveraging of those funds. It’s a classic win-win-win—for Lehigh, for TE Connectivity, and for the State’s goals in developing into a technology powerhouse.”

Ready…Set…Go!

Another positive outcome of the relationship is the annual TE Connectivity Manufacturing Expo and its impact on the youth of South Bethlehem. Every year since 1999, Lehigh’s department of mechanical engineering and mechanics and the TE Connectivity Foundation have joined forces to work with hundreds of local kids from Broughal Middle School to learn about engineering as a potential career choice—and have a lot of fun in the process.

Over the course of each Spring semester, teams of students from Lehigh and Broughal work together to design and manufacture miniature cars in a semester long program through an undergraduate manufacturing course. The Lehigh and Broughal students form teams of five or six, come up with designs for the racecars, and then fabricate and paint them. Under the supervision of the Lehigh students, the teams use computer-aided design (CAD), NC machining and injection-molding to manufacture their dream rides.

The program culminates in the annual Expo, held in the plaza that leads to Lehigh’s historic Packard Laboratory. Cars are judged by the Broughal and Lehigh students on design creativity for the “Kids Choice” and “Best in Show” awards. The teams then compete in a head-to-head race on a custom-designed track, complete with bleachers, screaming fans, a professional announcer, and all the trappings. Trophies, custom made by the Lehigh undergraduate apprentice teachers, are presented to all award winners.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Lehigh on all of the initiatives we support together, “says Ambrose, “but nothing quite compares to the Expo, and watching in real-time as a throng of kids catch the fever for science and engineering.”

December 6, 2016

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