Delaware State University scores STEM grant

 (From left) Senator Tom Carper, Governor Jack Markell, Dean Noureddine Melikechi, InterDigital CEO William Merritt, President Harry Williams, and Board Chair David Turner at Tuesday's announcement. (Avi Wolfman-Arent / Newsworks)

(From left) Senator Tom Carper, Governor Jack Markell, Dean Noureddine Melikechi, InterDigital CEO William Merritt, President Harry Williams, and Board Chair David Turner at Tuesday's announcement. (Avi Wolfman-Arent / Newsworks)

Delaware State University will receive $300,000 to build three new engineering and technology laboratories.

The money comes courtesy of InterDigital, a Wilmington-based firm responsible for advancements in cellular and tablet technology.

A Tuesday press conference announcing the grant featured remarks from University President Harry Williams, Governor Jack Markell,D-Delawre, and U.S. Senator Tom Carper, D-Delaware, an indication that the money holds as much symbolic power as it does purchasing power.

“This is how you build an economy,” Markell said. “You can’t build a really strong economy without a really strong education system.”

Markell said the grant dovetails with his dual push to improve workforce readiness and elevate education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Carper sounded a similar tune, praising Delaware State for its embrace of technology and its willingness to marry education and economic development.

“Delaware State is one of the engines that drives the economy in this state,” Carper said. “That wasn’t true 20, 25 years ago.”

Tuesday’s grant was at least tangentially connected to the Optical Science Center for Applied Research (OSCAR), a $30-million facility that is the glistening epitome of Delaware State’s research ambitions. Slated to open this fall, the new facility will house programs previously located inside the university’s Mishoe Science Center. That newly cleared space will in turn house the three laboratories financed by InterDigital.

Even though the connection between the grant and the building is merely logistical, university officials see both as indicators of the university’s priorities and trajectory. The grant, President Harry Williams said, “aligns perfectly with our vision for the future.”

The university is also asking for $858,000 from the state government to support a new enginerring technology degree program, further evidence of its pivot toward STEM education.

The $300,000 grant from InterDigital will go towards equipping three laboratories, one to focus on electronics, another to focus on wireless technology, and a third to focus on micro-controllers.

Noureddine Melikechi, dean of the College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology, said the labs will serve about 100 undergraduates a year. They will be used primarily as teaching labs meant to acquaint students with the basic tenets of electrical engineering and wireless communication.

Melikechi, who is also the director of OSCAR and a key figure in Delaware State’s STEM push, says the university’s interest in science and technology has grown significantly since he joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 1995.

“To me it was obvious it had to go that way,” Melikechi said. “As a nation we’ve become more STEM focused.”

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