For years, Alstom has recruited employees from the University of Pittsburgh for its work developing signaling and infrastructure tech for rail transit.
Now, after six months of discussion, the university and the French mobility technology company with a Strip District hub are deepening their relationship: Leaders at the institutions have signed a collaboration memo promising to further technical research, as well as provide students with educational and career opportunities within Alstom.
The company, which counts 4,300 total employees in the US — including 650 divided between the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions — will work with the university’s Swanson School of Engineering. Mark Gruber, head of Urban Rail Development Center at Alstom, told Technical.ly that he knows Pitt’s engineering program produces quality candidates. (He’s a Pitt alum himself.) His Urban Rail Development Center focuses on urban signaling, or attempting to solve problems related to keeping train motion safe, efficient and reliable. By partnering with Pitt, Gruber said, the center would have access to some of the best tech talent in the city, and be able to use the school’s resources to conduct its own research.
“We’d love to get some of the excellent minds in the faculty and graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh to tackle some of the complicated problems that we face,” Gruber said. “And then on their side, it’s an opportunity to see some of the real-world problems and apply some of the skills with the faculty and graduate students.”
Although the partnership isn’t transactional in the sense of money changing hands, during this planned five-year agreement, the hope is that by working together, both entities will be able to attract federal funding for research projects. The company will also be aiding Pitt’s workforce development by offering its students mentorship and expanded career opportunities.
“They already hire a good number of Pitt students, but we expect this partnership to increase that pipeline of talent from the university into the industry,” said David Vorp, the associate dean for research at the Swanson School.
A spokesperson for Alstom wasn’t able to provide a specific count of how many Pitt students it’s hired or the total number of local employees.
One important way the company will be participating in the educational process is by offering Pitt students internships, so both Alstom and the students can gauge if they’re a good long-term fit for each other. Graduate students in the earliest stages of transportation-related research would have access to Alstom researchers’ expertise, too, Vorp said.
As both the Swanson School and Alstom are seeking growth in the future, the partners said now seemed to be the right time to enter into a mutually beneficial partnership that would foster workforce development, mobility technology research, direct contact with potential recruits, and a chance to attract greater funding.
“It just makes sense for us to partner with a strong university and cooperate in a way where it can be beneficial both to the university and us,” Gruber said. “It makes sense to cooperate when it comes to problems that are as big and as challenging and as interesting and exciting as we have in front of us.”Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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