CULLOWHEE – With a pledge of support and $1 million in initial federal funding secured by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, Western Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte agreed Monday, Nov. 26, to a partnership in “ultra-high technologies” that is expected to jump-start efforts to bring emerging high-tech industries to Western North Carolina and support UNC Charlotte’s role as a research leader in opto-electronics.
The agreement, signed during ceremonies held in Charlotte and Cullowhee, provides support for UNC Charlotte’s existing Center for Precision Metrology and Center for Opto-electronics and Optical Communications and calls for formation of the Center for Integrated Technologies in WCU’s College of Applied Sciences, which will focus on the “new economy” industries of photonics, opto-electronics, biotechnology, and mechanical processes.
Taylor announced $1 million as a “down payment” on a pledge of $15 million in federal money for the partnership, which will allow the two University of North Carolina institutions to share resources, provide Western assistance in developing programs, and allow for joint faculty appointments.
UNC President Molly Broad, who joined Rep. Taylor, WCU Chancellor John Bardo and UNC Charlotte Chancellor James Woodward at the signing ceremony, said the agreement represents the kind of activity that holds significant promise for North Carolina. Also joining Taylor in the announcement at the Charlotte ceremonies was 12th District Congressman Mel Watt.
“President Broad has made a strong personal commitment to assuring that The University of North Carolina meets the needs of the people of the state,” Taylor said. “This kind of economic development activity, which spurs the economic and social welfare of the people of this region, is particularly appropriate for the university system, and I pledge my ongoing efforts to seek federal funding to support it.”
Photonics and opto-electronics, widely considered to be core technologies in the future of electronics in such areas as communication and computing, have been called “electronics at the speed of light.” The fields involve the generation and harnessing of light and other forms of radiant energy, and a key capability is the transmission of information via light waves.
“These new technologies are so large that the only way they can be brought to benefit the state is through inter-institutional collaboration,” Broad said. “I have encouraged Western and UNC Charlotte to work together, and I am pleased at the progress in addressing these cutting-edge technologies. I want to thank Congressman Taylor, not only for his support today, but also for his whole approach to assisting Western in its work for the economic development of the region. He has brought federal assistance for the Regional Workforce Development Center now under construction on the WCU campus and funding to help support Western’s hospitality and tourism management program.”
UNC Charlotte has a well-established research program in the area of opto-electronics, and the Charlotte region has become a center for fiber optics manufacturing.
“We are fortunate to have the University of North Carolina at Charlotte involved in this partnership, because our sister institution is one of the premiere institutions in the nation in the development of opto-electronics and photonics,” said WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo. “Their willingness to work with us will jump-start our programs and will allow us to get to work sooner with businesses in our area.
“Our goal is to keep a promise that we made during the fall 2000 higher education bond issue campaign, which was to do everything in our power to help get jobs in Western North Carolina so that our young people can stay and find meaningful careers here at home. That is a promise we made and a promise we will work to keep,” Bardo said. “Our real interest in these new technologies is not in basic research. Our interest is in how these ultra technologies can be brought to the table to accomplish work, whatever that work is — the transmission of data, the cutting of a part, or doing surgery.”
UNC Charlotte Chancellor Woodward called the partnership with Western a logical extension of UNC Charlotte’s role as a center for research.
“For some time, UNC Charlotte has been involved in research in opto-electronics and other fields that yield very specific, practical benefits for our state,” Woodward said. “Our new partnership being established with Western Carolina clearly illustrates that the commitment to that type of research exists throughout the UNC system. We are not just the University of North Carolina, we are the University for North Carolina.”
In announcing federal support for the partnership, Taylor said the collaboration between WCU and UNC Charlotte “will certainly maximize the investment of capital in equipment and facilities, and avoid wasteful duplication of efforts. Linking the two institutions together will greatly enhance the educational and research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, and will provide business and industry with access to knowledge resources essential to high-technology enterprises.”
With U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, University of North Carolina system President Molly Broad and UNC Board of Governors member Ed Broadwell (from left to right) looking on, University of North Carolina at Charlotte Chancellor James Woodward and Western Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo sign a partnership agreement in “ultra-high technologies” Monday in Cullowhee.