Last summer, high up in a Bellevue office building’s bright conference room, leaders from the UW, Microsoft Corp., and China’s Tsinghua University announced a novel partnership. They will train a new generation of innovative scientists, technicians and entrepreneurs.
The Northwest-based tech giant pledged $40 million to fund the Global Innovation Exchange, or GIX, and the two universities pledged to create a 15-month master’s program to be housed in Bellevue, about eight miles from the UW campus in Seattle. A degree program in technology innovation will connect students and professionals in a pioneering project-based environment, pairing them with teachers, researchers and industry mentors to work on real-world issues in health, the environment and energy.
“So many of today’s challenges can’t be solved by one discipline alone,” said UW interim president Ana Mari Cauce, explaining the impetus behind the endeavor. “True innovation comes from breaking down silos and bringing together thinkers and doers from a wide range of disciplines, and from academia and industry.”
Beijing-based Tsinghua University is one of China’s elite, producing some of the country’s leading computer and materials scientists and engineers. The school also has a private arm that runs businesses that spin out from the research and advances of the university.
Tsinghua president Qui Yong, speaking in Mandarin, told the room that he saw this as a chance to cultivate global talent and operate across boundaries to solve problems related to the environment, resources and health.
Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith came up with the idea for a collaborative educational program several years ago, recognizing UW’s central role in the innovation economy in the Northwest, much like Stanford’s in Silicon Valley. Aside from allowing students to work with mentors in the industry, this effort creates opportunities for global interaction, all the while bringing together academia, private industry and nonprofit organizations.
Two more schools and several other businesses may soon join the GIX program. Early focuses will include life sciences, smart cities, and the “Internet of things”—involving communication from machine to machine or from sensor to machine. While it will start on the UW’s Seattle campus, the school is slated to move into its own building in Bellevue’s Spring District by 2017. The first class of up to 35 students will start in the fall of 2016. The number of GIX students is expected to grow to 3,000 by 2025.