The History and Future of College-Industry Collaboration

The worlds of academia and industry can seem incompatible at times, owing to the former’s focus on the theoretical and the latter’s emphasis on the concrete. However, in the field of material handling and logistics, both realms have much to offer each other, particularly when collaborations are forged based on a shared interest and an openness to learn.

Since 1952, the College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE), an independent organization founded by MHI, has provided the structure to help develop connections between industry and academic leaders that have allowed for a deep appreciation across the divide and a sharp understanding of the ways university-industry partnerships can lead to valuable insight and benefits to the material handling field.

John Hill, director of MHI member St. Onge Co., has been involved in CICMHE intermittently since 1978. Hill said CICMHE’s development and early emergence can be traced to the efforts of early MHI presidents West Shay and George Raymond. “Their idea was always to create a platform for bi-directional communication between practitioners and teachers of material handling at colleges and universities across the country,” Hill said.

George Prest, CEO of MHI, said MHI’s early proponents of CICMHE recognized that the development of material handling principles was in its infancy, including initial automation efforts.

“They wanted to make sure that the schools were supporting the industry,” Prest said. “They saw how important that could be.”

Rick Fox, president and CEO of MHI member Fox IV Technologies, said the collaborative aspect of CICMHE offers benefits for both academic and industry participants. Academic representatives learn from industry leaders what trends and issues are impacting their businesses, he said, while industry leaders gain insights into the professors’ research that might provide them with business opportunities. In addition, academics modify their curriculum to better prepare students for industry challenges, while MHI members learn more about the work habits and attitudes of the next generation of employees. For both camps, the experience is eye-opening.

“I see and think about things related to material handling that I never would have thought about before because of my involvement with CICMHE,” said William Ferrell, Fluor International supply chain professor at Clemson University and the liaison to the CICMHE business advisory roundtable.

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