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Professor puts students on path to patenting their ideas

June 5, 2009

Antonio Garcia wants to see Arizona State University students make the leap “from being learners to becoming doers.”

He’ll be helping them do that through his new ASU Foundation Professorship. Garcia is using resources provided by the professorship to establish a research center to offer students mentorship in developing their ideas for improving health care technology.

Beginning in the 2009 fall semester, the Center for Engineering and Translational Biomedicine will invite applications from students with promising proposals for new medical devices and technologies.

“The plan is for the center to become a resource for students to get involved in the process of innovation and to produce something meaningful – like a prototype device or a method that could be patented,” said Garcia, a professor in the Harrington Department of Bioengineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

Much of Garcia’s research has involved improving medical diagnostics and methods of administering medicinal drugs in places where access to hospitals, clinics and medical professionals is limited, such as rural areas, military battlefields or underdeveloped countries.

Initially, Garcia wants to bring to the center those students – from undergraduates to post-doctoral students – whose interests align with this area of research.

“Typically students get into research by assisting a professor or working in a research center. I am trying to change that paradigm,” he says. “For this new center, students will come to us with ideas, and faculty members will act in a supporting role.”

The center’s mission will be to provide “an environment to nurture fresh perspectives on how to solve problems and to help students follow through on bringing their ideas to fruition,” he said.

The opportunities won’t be limited to engineering students. Garcia sees possibilities for students in various areas of science, business, law and art to get involved.

Students from a range of backgrounds and areas of study will help the center foster the kind of teamwork and collaborative effort that often drives creativity, he said.

“This reflects the thrust of our reorganization [of the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering], the idea of stimulating students’ interest and creativity through hands-on, entrepreneurial ventures that encourage them not to wait until after they graduate to do actual engineering and research,” Garcia explains. “In this way the university becomes an ongoing resource for them as they begin their careers.”

Deirdre Meldrum, dean of the engineering school, says the new center will expand upon what is offered by the school’s Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative and Technology Entrepreneurship programs.

“We provide students a range of entrepreneurial opportunities not found in any other engineering school,” Meldrum says. “We are expecting Tony Garcia’s new center to become the model for three or four additional centers that will allow our faculty and students to focus on solutions to the grand challenges of engineering in the 21st century, in areas such energy, sustainability and security.”

Garcia “has a true flair for creative ideas and a deep interest in education and entrepreneurial efforts,” says Mark Hayes, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and a member of the committee that will guide the new student research center.

“The center will turn around the traditional professor-student relationship,” Hayes says, “and by doing that it will offer new avenues for young people to excel in the university.”

The center will be launched with funds that come with Garcia’s appointment as an ASU Foundation Professor. For continued support, the center will seek sponsorships from corporations and foundations.

Garcia has done biomedical engineering research for two decades, as well as led efforts to improve education in engineering, science and math. He has been director and co-director of National Science Foundation programs to increase participation of underrepresented groups in those fields.

ASU Foundation Professorships are awarded to faculty members who demonstrate extraordinary scholarly achievement and earn recognition as national or global leaders in their fields. The title comes with financial support for research or other scholarly activities.

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