By Gregg Kleiner
For decades, HP, one of the most innovative technology companies in the world, has maintained a close relationship with Oregon State University, a connection that has benefited both institutions on multiple levels.
College of Engineering students cut their teeth during undergraduate internships at the tech giant’s Corvallis campus and take advantage of HP-funded scholarships and programs. HP supports employees who pursue advanced degrees at Oregon State while simultaneously working for the company.
Collaborative research projects have sparked innovation breakthroughs that have opened new technology frontiers and contributed to both HP’s success and Oregon State’s reputation as a leading research institution.
Significant numbers of Oregon State engineering alumni become HP employees, with many maintaining a close connection to their alma mater, located less than three miles away.
Shane Wall, an Oregon State engineering alumnus and HP’s chief technology officer and global head of HP Labs, personifies the unique relationship between the company and the college. Wall, who grew up in a small Idaho town, landed three engineering internships at HP. After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 1988, he took a full-time job with the company, where he worked for nine years before leaving to launch a startup. In 2012, following a 14-year stint at Intel, Wall returned to HP. Today, he is not only the CTO, but also serves on the college’s Dean’s Leadership Council, helping further develop the Oregon State-HP connection.
“We have deeper relationships with Oregon State than we have had with any other universities,” Wall said. “It’s a definite win-win.”
Many tech companies come to Oregon State to attend a career fair or wander through the annual Engineering Expo in search of potential employees, but those relationships often stop there. HP’s engagement in a wide range of areas — from scholarship support to sponsored research — pays dividends on many fronts.
On the collaborative research side, HP worked with Oregon State faculty, staff, and students to develop the world’s first transparent transistor, advance microfluidics, and explore new piezoelectric materials. Current projects include new ways to test, measure, analyze, and determine the effectiveness of 3D printing materials and parts. HP is also engaging with the college’s highly ranked robotics program.
“Oregon State has one of the premier robotics programs in the nation, and we have a unique interest in that field that overlaps very well,” said Wall, who hopes more companies will consider developing deeper relationships with the college.
“We’ve found that two-way engagement works best,” Wall said. “We hire graduates and interns who become attached to HP but have an affinity for the university. And we are proactive in hosting professors in areas of interest, which creates a much tighter linkage.”
HP also funds employees who want to pursue graduate degrees while working at the company. Pedro Alzaga (’14 B.S., Chemical Engineering), a metal deposition engineer at HP, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in materials science while working full time at HP, where he started two years ago following an undergraduate internship.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” Alzaga said. “I don’t think I’d be doing this if it weren’t for HP’s support, and the fact OSU is so close is also very good. There are so many connections between HP and Oregon State. My boss at HP, Sharon LeRoux, was an instructor at OSU and also attended graduate school like I’m doing, while working at HP.”
Alzaga’s graduate research centers on corrosion resistance of materials used in HP’s thermal inkjet printers. He is doing research in the Ambient Pressure Surface Characterization Laboratory, which houses instruments available to academia and industry for a range of surface characterization measurements, including X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and scanning tunneling microscopy.
The engineering curriculum at Oregon State develops unique graduates, Wall said.
“The great thing about Oregon State grads is that they are practical — they come out with a solid education and solid fundamentals, but the way the engineering curriculum is set up, they also end up with practical experience that we find to be hugely positive,” he said.
The financial cost of developing and maintaining a deep relationship with Oregon State is minimal, according to Wall.
“Honestly, we’ve found it doesn’t take a lot of money,” Wall said. “Typically, the amounts are very small, but they create a linkage, a relationship, and part of the reason that stays alive is because there are so many of us who came out of Oregon State and have a passion to help out and give back.”
Photo credit: Thuy Tran