COLLABORATION

NATO hub picks Johns Hopkins as first university partner

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The partnership seeks to improve healthcare delivery in conflict zones.

Johns Hopkins has become the world’s first university to partner with a NATO Innovation Hub initiative, offering students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with military experts on designing solutions to critical defence challenges.

For the partnership, a team of students from America’s first research university will team up with the Innovation for Defense or I4D to tackle how healthcare – whether civilian or military – is delivered and managed in conflict zones. The Norfolk, Virginia-based I4D is an initiative of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Innovation Hub that brings together various parties to design solutions to challenges the organisation faces.

“This is a pilot for us; our eventual goal is to have I4D university partnerships in all 29 NATO member countries,” says NATO Innovation Hub Manager Serge Da Deppo in a media release.

“What we’re creating fresh with Hopkins will serve as a model for the others going forward. Our goal is to tap into the imaginative, fertile, and hopeful minds of these young people and get their fresh take on solving many serious and thorny problems.”

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Working on the project will be the cream of the crop of Johns Hopkins’ engineering student body. According to the school, the students are all part of the university’s Center for Leadership Education (CLE), through which they are put through courses, minors, internships, graduate programmes, and a whole host of hands-on experiences as preparation for leadership roles.

They are also members of the Clark Scholars Programme, which offers, “select high-ability engineering students” enhanced opportunities and experiences in business management, entrepreneurship, community service, and leadership. Established in 2016, the programme is funded by a US$15 million endowment from the Clark Charitable Foundation.

Unlike most high-profile university-industry partnerships, Johns Hopkins’ partnership with the NATO Innovation Hub was not exactly the result of a relationship years in the making.

Rather, it originated from the impressive work the university’s students themselves had done last year for the hub’s Countering Unmanned Systems Innovation Challenge in Germany, which sowed the seats of the partnership arrangement.

According to the school, CLE entrepreneurship and innovation students formed one of 10 teams from around the world to compete in the challenge in Berlin last fall.

They designed a system to protect civilians and non-military infrastructure from hostile or terrorist drones and though did not end up winning the competition, still managed to impress Da Deppo with their entry.

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The NATO Innovation Hub manager reportedly reached out to the students’ instructor Lawrence Aronhime to discuss a new opportunity for them.

“They told me that they were building this Innovation for Defense and were looking for university partners, and that was the beginning,” Aronhime said in the release.

“For the students, this is what it is all about: a great chance to work on real projects that make a difference in the world.”

With the partnership now in place, NATO representatives will conduct periodic visits throughout the school year to the university’s Homewood campus in Baltimore to check on the team’s progress, provide feedback and give new challenges.

“The NATO Project is part of CLE’s overall focus on innovation, leadership, and design. We see the Center itself as a hub for innovation, so our goals fully aligned with NATO’s,” said Aronhime.

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Sean Glaister, one of the students working on the battlefield triage system for the project, described it as an opportunity to apply academic and classroom knowledge to a real-world challenge.

“A major part of this project’s value is because of the human element: we’re in constant communication with NATO and expect to form a network of contacts in order to solve the problems we encounter,” the sophomore biomedical engineering major from Boulder, Colorado, said.

“Our professors teach us problem-solving and organisational thinking the way that consultants do. As a whole, this project will prepare us for any other design challenges we take on in our undergraduate, graduate, or even professional careers.”

CLE Director Pamela Sheff said the new partnership makes sense as it falls clearly in line with the centre’s primary objective to prepare students for leadership roles in the future.

“CLE has a very clear vision about the role universities can and must play in the larger world,” Sheff said. 

“That’s why we are spearheading the partnership with the NATO Transformation Command and why it is so important—it gives our students opportunities to work on real problems with global impact.”