Alex Dunn and Lucas Medina have found their way into the center of a grand experiment at UNH Manchester. Both are stand-out technology students at Nashua High School South, recruited for their diverse computing and programming skill set.
They suddenly have found themselves part of a team of high school and college students that will be gaining real-world experience in the newly launched Emerging Technology Center.
"It's an amazing opportunity, to be part of a start-up," said Dunn, who spent part of his Wednesday night giving computer demonstrations during a ribbon cutting for the ETC in the Manchester millyard, which officially opened in January.
The goal is for the center to quickly become a cutting-edge resource for businesses and academics who will come together to collaborate on real world projects.
Center Director Paul Bencal, who also serves as Dean of Technology at Windham High School, says the ETC will focus on software development, engineering services, digital media, and business services, ultimately creating a new, innovative paradigm in higher education.
“The center will become a melting pot for students from all academic programs, working together to gain hands-on, marketable experience while solving real world problems and providing a valuable resource for our business community,” Bencal said.
The initiative is part of a long-term strategy by the state’s public higher education institutions to double the number of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) graduates by 2025, to fulfill the region’s workforce needs.
To that end, the center has the support of Manchester businessman Jeremy Hitchcock, CEO of tech company Dyn Inc., through a three-year $125,000 commitment of the company's philanthropic arm, DynCares, as well as tech support, by way of providing mentors.
Another high-profile supporter is Dean Kamen, whose DEKA Research shares millyard space with UNH's urban campus.
Kamen was on hand for the launch, an offered some opening remarks during which he credited UNH Manchester Dean Ali Rafieymehr for having the vision to push the project forward, and noted the seamless transformation of the old mill building, former home to Pandora Industries, into a technology center.
"Typically educators are thought of as a conservative bunch. Ali is a crazy man in a wonderful way, and he's trying to bring excitement and he's trying to bring urgency to education – particularly science and technology education and I think he's exactly right," Kamen said.
Kamen, an inventor and entrepreneur, is best known in his home state for two things: His Segway, and as founding father of FIRST, an international team technology competition, for which Kamen continues to be head cheerleader.
"We gotta get a FIRST team in every school in the state," said Kamen, in talking about "growing our own" tech talent to help put New Hampshire on the business/technology map.
"This state is either going to out pace the rest of the country and the world, because we have the smartest work force, or we won't, because nothing else really matters. Kids can graduate from any school in the country and if they have a good degree they can go to southern California, or they can come to Manchester," Kamen said. "It's unlikely a lot of the smart kids with thin blood are gonna come up here. I think we have to grow our own, if we want to grow our businesses and grow our economy, and grow our community," Kamen said.
The Emerging Technology Center is a very visible step, said Kamen, and it's exciting that it's happening in the Manchester mills.
"Opening Pandora's box is exciting," Kamen said, "and it's great to not only have this building open again, but that it's occupied by the University of New Hampshire and particularly, to have a lot of technology based students in here."
The event also recognized students involved with the New Hampshire based FIRST Robotics competition, which currently engages more than 300,000 students nationwide, including several teams in Nashua.
UNH Manchester is hosting an Open House on Saturday, April 13 which will include a tour of the Emerging Technology Center. Registration is available online, www.manchester.unh.edu/openhouse.
For more information about UNH Manchester’s Emerging Technology Center, email Director Paul Bencal or call 603-641-4168.