For the first time in its six-year history, the Silicon Slopes tech summit on Thursday had representation from a polytechnic university in the Beehive State.
Before this year, there wasn't a true polytechnic university in Utah. Then the university formerly known as Dixie State made the transition in May to Utah Tech University.
Utah Tech University President Richard Williams was joined Thursday by board of trustees member Dave Elkington and Silicon Slopes cofounder and CEO Clint Betts to discuss the new era of the university.
"We looked at all of the universities that had this polytechnic focus. We mapped it out in the United States map and there was this huge hole in the western United States, and right in the middle of that hole was St. George, Utah," Williams said.
With that, the university saw an opportunity and eventually snagged it when it transitioned to Utah Tech.
It makes sense for a state with as big of a tech hub as Utah has that there would be a technical university to supply a competent workforce to the many companies that call Utah home, a point that Betts raised to Elkington.
"We all know there's just not enough engineering talent (and) there's not enough computer science talent," Elkington said.
Elkington said that the university's transition aims to fix that shortage, noting that the school isn't going through a name change only, but a "focus change." He pointed to the $100 million science, engineering and technology building that was built on Utah Tech's campus in 2020.
"There's a makerspace, there's engineering labs, there's machine shops," Elkington said. "I don't think most people realize what this thing's turned into, and it will produce, I think, the next generation of entrepreneurs, the next generation of talent for the state of Utah and honestly the country."
Utah Tech is also home to the Atwood Innovation Plaza, which has filed over 195 patents since its conception.
"If you look on the world scale, we're ranked in the top 25 in the world for how many patents are approved at a university — not in Utah, in the world," Williams said.
Both Elkington and Williams said that the university will be welcoming collaboration and input from Utah's tech sector.
In March, the university struck a partnership with Pluralsight, a technology workforce development company, to help students enhance their education with technology-based skills.
"We are in a transition and we are looking toward the day that we will become a truly polytechnic university," said Chris Guymon, assistant provost for adult and professional education at Utah Tech. "It became very, very clear that our students, in particular — but also our faculty and staff and our alumni — needed to have greater experiences around technology."
Students, faculty and staff can now take any of the 7,000 courses offered by Pluralsight. The new connection will give all current university students, faculty and staff unlimited access to Pluralsight Skills, an online platform that teaches technology-based skills people need to succeed in today's digital world.
"We want experts in learning opportunities for our students. Come and share with us, let's build some internships, externships, whatever we need," Williams said. "We'd like the tech companies to come and partner with our faculty. Give us projects you want us to accomplish that we can embed in our curriculum."
Elkington also took the opportunity to emphasize that the university is "not the Dixie State that it was."
"It's a different feel. Come be involved. This is your university, this is Silicon Slopes’ university," Elkington said.
"Technology is changing, as you know,” Williams said. “We need to be partners with (Silicon) Slopes to make sure that we are the tech university for the state of Utah.”