or a state with a population under 3 million, Mississippi punches above its weight in the research and development arena. It’s home to eight public universities and four research universities — the University of Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi, Jackson State University and Mississippi State University. These institutions formed the Mississippi Research Consortium (MRC) back in 1986 to develop and sustain nationally competitive research programs in the state. (Academicinfluence.com, a technology-driven academic rankings site, includes Mississippi College and William Carey University on its list of Magnolia State research institutions.)
MRC has three specific goals, according to its mission statement: (1) to increase public awareness of science, engineering, and mathematics at all educational levels to develop a scientifically literate citizenry who can fuel the science and engineering industry in Mississippi with the state’s own human resources; (2) to establish and maintain a solid scientific infrastructure in the university system by developing equipment and facility resources, collaboration resources, private sector links, and federal laboratory partnerships; and (3) to expand the state’s economic opportunities through technology and knowledge transfer, including greater commercialization, increased technical assistance, and the education of a workforce that can support technology-based industries.
Roadmap to Collaboration
Designing research and development policies and programs to help Mississippi compete globally in emerging fields such as advanced materials, data science, sensors and diagnostics and others is no small task. To address that, MRC in 2021 produced the Mississippi Science and Technology Plan (S&T Plan) that “provides a roadmap for capitalizing upon our state’s knowledge-based strengths and suggests potential strategies to move the state forward,” explains the document’s introduction. It continues: “The purpose of the plan is to serve as a guide for fostering collaborative efforts between state agencies, higher education institutions, the business community, and private industry that will help grow and enhance the state’s science and technology driven economy. Additionally, the S&T Plan aims to create opportunities for economic development and advance education by building a stronger foundation for research, innovation, and Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) education in the state.”
The S&T Plan identifies three state priority areas — to grow research and development infrastructure, capacities, and resources to promote the expansion of Mississippi’s emerging technologies to establish a knowledge-based economy, and maximize the state’s global competitiveness; to increase and diversify human capital and talent creation, retention, and repatriation; and to foster Mississippi’s knowledge-based economy through the support of innovation, entrepreneurship, and advancement of intellectual property. The plan outlines specific objectives and potential strategies for each of these priorities and offers potential success metrics that can be used to gauge effectiveness of R&D measures that ensue.
Research Universities Aid Commercialization
An example of MRC universities working on R&D with other organizations to benefit the state already exists. In July 2020, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) began participating in a partnership to support the commercialization of advanced technologies invented at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), in Vicksburg. All four MRC universities joined ERDCWERX, a DEFENSEWERX innovation hub and government partner of the ERDC, to identify promising industry sectors and companies for potential licensure of ERDC technologies.
“We are excited to partner with the other MRC research institutions in the state to assist ERDCWERX in understanding the market potential of four of ERDC’s technologies,” said USM team leader and Office of Technology Development Director Dr. Brian Cuevas when the university joined the partnership. “This collaboration is an example of potential benefits of aligning the innovation capabilities across the state with a common goal of translating advanced technology into products and high-paying jobs, which is key in creating a more resilient, knowledge-based economy in Mississippi.”
As a partnership intermediary, ERDCWERX supports technology transfer, innovation and workforce development across the ERDC enterprise and extends ERDC’s reach through government, industry, and academic collaborations.