President Bardo talks innovation with U.S. Congress


Matthew Kelly, D.C. Bureau Chief

WSU President John Bardo, front, delivers testimony before the U.S. House Research and Technology Subcommittee.

WASHINGTON — Wichita State President John Bardo spoke in front of a U.S. House subcommittee Thursday, citing Innovation Campus as a national model and calling on Congress to pass legislation he said would bolster local economies by creating applied learning opportunities.

Bardo was one of four speakers to testify at the Research and Technology Subcommittee hearing which Chairwoman Barbara Comstock, a Republican from Virgina, said would examine how applied learning opportunities could address “the growing need for a diverse and technically-trained STEM workforce.”

Comstock said the subcommittee hoped to “identify what workforce development programs should be further examined,” adding that Congress needs to make informed decisions about the “most impactful and innovative tools” already in use.

Bardo discussed business partnerships being made on Innovation Campus — including the private, Koch family-funded elementary school set to open this fall — as well as the Wichita Area Technical College merger and WSU’s implementation of half-credit-hour badge courses.

Rep. Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas’s First District who arranged for Bardo to speak before the subcommittee, made his support for WSU and its applied learning approach clear.

“Dr. Bardo, when I think of Wichita State University, I think of the innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship capital of the world,” Marshall said. “You guys have always been way out there. You’ve always been a great visionary.”

Bardo said Innovation Campus has been a well-received addition to WSU.

“We’re seeing great interest — to a point where tours are starting to be a little bit of a problem because we’re giving so many of them,” Bardo said. “And we’re seeing excitement within the local community and in the broader technology industry.”

Comstock noted the value of a STEM “pipeline” that could help make the next generation workforce-ready — citing classes of kindergarteners being taught computer coding in underprivileged schools in her district.

Bardo later spoke to WSU’s attempt to establish a pipeline in the form of Wonder, the Koch family-funded private elementary school coming to campus this fall.

“We’re starting with a preschool, actually,” Bardo said. “And they’re building this school right on the campus — right near Airbus, right near our engineering building — and we’re encouraging those students to be engaged with us from the time they’re little children.”

“Over time, as we learn, we’ll try to generalize this out into public education, but we’ll also start encouraging students with disabilities and low-income students also to come in and be a part of this experience.”

Bardo called on Congress to pass legislation that would encourage universities to partner with outside entities to stimulate local economies. He likened such legislation to the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which opened the door for universities, small businesses, and non-profit institutions to pursue ownership of intellectual property stemming from government-funded research.

“It’s time for Congress to act as it did in the 80s,” Bardo said. “The Bayh-Dole Act changed the future of higher education in the United States. I believe it’s time for Bayh-Dole 2, and I believe this committee is the committee that can make that happen.”

Bardo joked that such legislation could be called the “Comstock-Marshall Act.”

“It would really focus not on transferring intellectual property to business, but would focus on trying to create applied STEM work that would benefit faculty, benefit students, and benefit the economy of the area,” Bardo said.

In his written testimony, Bardo proposed creating a program that would award grants to universities that invest in applied learning initiatives. He also recommended instating policies to encourage universities to partner with outside entities as WSU has done on Innovation Campus, and altering institutional accreditation methods to incentivize experimentation and innovation.

Bardo said that, by partnering with businesses and focusing on applied learning, WSU is preparing students for the rapidly-changing job market.

“It’s a long-term view where you give people a ladder to success so that it’s not just today’s job,” Bardo said. “If you take today’s job, we’re going to continue working with you and move as advanced manufacturing moves.”