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Joan Gabel on Competing in the Next Economy

Joan Gabel

Chancellor, University of Pittsburgh

Academic Vice Chair, Council on Competitiveness

Members of the Council on Competitiveness board and executive committee, and commissioners and advisers from the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers came together this summer at Gallup World Headquarters to take stock of the Council’s work and explore the challenges and opportunities driving Phase 2 of the National Commission’s work.

During the meeting, Joan Gabel, chancellor, University of Pittsburgh, and academic vice chair, Council on Competitiveness, reflected on how previous presenters showed refreshing new partnerships and cross sector collaboration that lean into innovation and have, at the very least, focused on application, if not on full-fledged commercialization. And she pointed out that for universities, this is utterly new.

Gabel also shared thoughts on what and how universities should be teaching about emerging technologies. For example, if AI will train itself, are we training for how to interface with it? What are the policy and ethical implications of that? How do we ensure equitable access so that good things go into AI and good things come out? 

If we are not training people for things that do not exist yet, if we are not working together from the earliest days, pre-K up, to nurture appetites for uncertainty and things that do not exist yet, particularly in those who have not historically had access to the pathways to education that yield that appetite, then the technology will surpass us. But the advantage we have is that we have been in the lead in the technology, and we do have an appetite for collaboration and thinking about the ways in which these things can happen.

Pittsburgh, for example, is placing a big bet on partnership with Carnegie Mellon in life sciences and biotech. Many universities are. But we may not think about the newness or unexplored components of it. How do we train at the doctoral level? How do we train at the innovation and commercialization level? To work on the production floor using live cells is a very specific technical, probably a two-year, college degree-level skill set or even a high school diploma with dual enrollment. So, how are you going to work together across this spectrum?

“It does not matter how innovative we are if there aren't people ready to do the actual work on commercialization or execution. So, a lot of the future of workforce development is thinking in this new way about listening to industry partners and going upstream in K-12.” – Joan Gabel, chancellor, University of Pittsburgh, and academic vice chair, Council on Competitiveness

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