Economic ventures springing from research at Wright State University will get a boost if Caroline Cao has her way.
The professor of biomedical, industrial and human factors engineering recently graduated from the prestigious Executive Leadership for Academic Women in Technology and Engineering (ELATE) program, where she worked on ways to build an ecosystem for entrepreneurship at Wright State.
“This is something every university is doing to remain relevant in this modern day of higher education, training, innovation and discovery,” Cao said. “A lot of innovation is happening in university research labs; even faculty working with students on class projects. But we’re not maximizing our potential and return on investment.”
Cao was nominated for the program by Provost Tom Sudkamp, who along with Nathan Klingbeil, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and Jaime Ramirez-Vick, chair of biomedical, industrial and human factors engineering, supported the year-long participation.
Cao was among 26 leading faculty members selected for the most recent class at ELATE, a professional development program hosted by Drexel University in Philadelphia for women in the academic STEM fields.
The ELATE Fellows convened in Philadelphia three times a year for five to seven days. Between these onsite gatherings, the Fellows engaged in activities and assignments at their home institutions on a variety of topics, applying their skills in strategic finance and resource management, personal and professional leadership, organizational initiatives and change management.
“This was a year-long program so you can really dig deep into all of the different issues — from management, leadership, interpersonal communication, finances, policy,” said Cao. “My assignments for the program involved the leadership across the university, from the president to the vice presidents to the deans of various colleges, as well as faculty and staff.”
The Drexel Fellows hailed from institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, Purdue University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Michigan and the University of Texas.
Cao, who is also a professor of surgery and a professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said her cohort was “amazing.”
“They are all very, very accomplished women. Some are already in leadership positions in their institutions. Some are aspiring to be in leadership positions,” Cao said. “Some have taken a more straightforward route in their academic careers. Some have meandered and in so doing have gained wider perspectives.”
Cao said the program helped boost her leadership skills.
“The experience has made me more collaborative,” she said. “I feel I now have better ways of interacting with my colleagues, better ways of working to achieve a goal. It has also helped me a great deal in realizing my strengths and realizing my limitations and where I need to put in more work. Most importantly, it has helped me to see how the university works as a whole and not as individual units that are disconnected.”
Cao selected the entrepreneurship ecosystem for her project as a Drexel Fellow.
“I have been involved in entrepreneurship with my research in translating technology for commercialization,” she said. “And I realized there are other people on campus who are also doing different things related to entrepreneurship.”
Cao said there are undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurship programs in both the colleges of engineering and business, for example.
“We need to be working together. And even if we’re not working together on a project, we need to know that we exist,” she said. “I would like to build an ecosystem to allow cooperation, sharing and leveraging resources, etc., to make us all more successful.”