Author Archives: Tina Valdecanas

About Tina Valdecanas

I tend to write about issues that will impact RTP's future competitiveness, but every once in a while get to write about fun things like robots, the RTP community, or my friends doing great work in the for-benefit/fourth sector here. I got to NC by way of DC and Phoenix. When I'm not writing about RTP, my time revolves around my family and dogs and finding new places in the Triangle to explore. (That's my buddy Harry in the photo).

Calling All Science Attentive: Week 2 of the NC Science Festival

The Research Triangle region and North Carolina have long been accustomed to having ample opportunities to test their science knowledge and feed their interest in STEM. The grand opening of the Nature Research Center at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences this weekend and the third iteration of the NC Science Festival have proven this to the Nth degree. And there’s even more on tap as we enter the final week of the Festival.

For the RTP community in particular, it will be a week full of Earth Day celebrations, art and science and even visits by astronauts. Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store this week:

  • Earth Day.  The 2012 Green Business Challenge kicks off today in honor of Earth Day. This afternoon’s event will feature a networking social, program overview, green resources and guest speakers. Registration for the event closed April 18, but the region-wide initiative will continue through the year to educate, encourage and provide resources to achieve energy, water and waste reductions, as well as make smarter choices in purchasing and work-related travel. For more information on the Challenge, visit their website.
  • RTP Night at the Nasher. April 26 if almost here. As noted in earlier blogs, employees at RTP companies who show their business card will be admitted into the special exhibit on the works of Alexander Calder free from 5:00 – 9:00 PM on Thursday. See what happens when an engineer finds a second career in art.
  • Destination Station. The NASA Johnson Space Center will host Destination Station: Science and Technology Research Panel on Friday, April 27 at the RTP HQ. The event is free & open to the public and will include presentations from NASA Scientists, astronauts and technology researchers. This event will be focused on how private-sector companies can get involved with the space station. NASA astronaut Bill McArthur will lead the afternoon discussion (after which he’ll throw out the first pitch at the Durham Bulls game). Please RSVP for the here.

And if that weren’t enough, individual companies are hosting other events and adding to the calendar of RTP-based Science Festival activities. A special thanks and shout-out to RTI International and Biogen Idec for hosting groups from Citizen Schools to give them a firsthand look at STEM in action.

For more information on these events and other activities in RTP, please visit our events calendar.

The Science of Food: April Food Truck Rodeo

Join us for the RTP Food Truck Rodeo

Gear up for Earth Day, learn about various events going on in the Research Triangle during the  2012 NC Science Festival, and donate a book to “Books on Break” and make sure a needy child has books over the summer

 WHEN:          Thursday, April 19, 2012

Time:              11:30 AM -1:30 PM

Location:       RTP Headquarters, 12 Davis Drive (Directions)

Participating Food Trucks:

 As always, parking is limited so we strongly encourage carpooling.

We look forward to seeing everyone!

 AND save the date for next Food Truck Rodeo on Thursday, May 17th!


Save the Date: When Science Meets Art

The 2012 NC Science Festival is almost here– with several ways to celebrate science in and around RTP.  (Check out the post by Julie Rhodes  from last week for the full list of events in the region and throughout the state).

For the RTP community, please save the date and join us at the Nasher Museum on Thursday, April 26 from 5-9 PM. The Museum is currently hosting an  innovative exhibition on modern sculptor Alexander Calder. Learn how science meets art within Calder’s mobiles and creative use of materials to design space and explore form, balance, color and movement.

Show your business card from an RTP company and get free admission to the exhibit. (Spread the word by pointing colleagues to this RTP Calder Exhibit, April 26 flyer).

Paying it Forward

A few months ago, I blogged about how the spirit of generosity that started RTP is alive and well in the region’s business community and overall ethos. Late Tuesday, we got yet another example of what makes the Research Triangle region a special place.

Ryan Allis and Aaron Houghton, co-founders of iContact (which they started while still students at UNC-CH) announced donations to CED, the Southeast’s largest entrepreneurial support organization, totaling $270,000.

Ryan and Aaron recently sold iContact to Vocus, a publicly-traded provider of cloud-based marketing and PR software.

The two have been engaged with CED since they were students: they volunteered at CED events as undergrads and in later years, served as members of the CED Board of Directors. The donation was a way of making good on a stock pledge after they started the company in 2003.

(As the CED press release on the donation notes, the stock pledge program was “established in 1998 to encourage entrepreneurs to support the organization by identifying contributions that would be made at some point in the future at the time of a successful exit. Pledges are made by individuals who have benefited from CED’s programs and services, many of which are provided free or at reduced cost to early-stage entrepreneurs.”)

Ryan has also suggested that he’ll use some of the proceeds for Angel investments in the region.

The donation has  been described as a way of “paying it forward” and helping support the “next generation of great entrepreneurs in this area.” However it’s labeled, it’s an example of what makes the region’s ecosystem work and draw others to it.


Retaining the Best & Brightest

One of the attributes that sets the Research Triangle region apart is its vast and deep talent pool. From recent graduates to top researchers and technicians that drive the community of companies that call RTP home, our ability to attract and retain innovative and entrepreneurial minds will be a key factor in our future success. Given  companies’ changing workforce needs and increasing global competition, the battle for talent will only intensify.

In collaboration with several other of the region’s organizations and in conjunction with the Partnership for a New American Economy, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce is hosting a panel discussion March 12, 2012 (from 8:00 to 10:30 AM at the Embassy Suites in Cary) that will look at how smart immigration reforms will drive economic growth.

Richard Herman, a  national expert on immigration policy and author of  Immigrant, Inc.,will begin the discussion. His comments will be followed by comments on the Legislative Outlook for immigration reform by Congressman David Price and a panel discussion featuring Dr. Eric Buckland (Bioptigen – a Park Research Center tenant); Dr. James Goodnight (SAS); Dr. Louis Martin-Vega (NC State University, College of Engineering); and Rick McNeel (LORD Corporation).

Please visit the Greater Raleigh Chamber’s events page for more information on the session and to register.



Celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

Alexander Calder, Chat-Mobile (Cat Mobile), 1966 Painted sheet metal and steel wire 20 x 26 x 26 inches. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Loan (EL1995.10). © 2011 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Ever wonder how science affects art — and vice versa? Through June 17, 2012, the Nasher Museum presents  ”Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy“ an exhibition of the works of modern sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and seven of his protégés that define space and explore form, balance, color and movement.

Photo by Dr. J Caldwell

To celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, the museum has teamed up with our local Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter to provide fun hands-on engineering-related activities for all ages on Thursday night, February 23, 2012.

The museum’s free admission on Thursday evenings will be in effect and as part of Corporate Sponsor Night,  anyone showing a business card or ID from a RTP company will be admitted into the Calder Special Exhibit for free.

Alexander Calder, Blue Among Yellow and Red, 1963. Painted sheet metal and steel wire 43 x 63 inches diameter. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The Leonard and Ruth Horwich Family Loan (EL1995). © 2011 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Can’t make it Thursday? No worries — RTP is hosting another evening of science and art on April 26 during the NC Science Festival. Stay tuned to the blog for more details on that fun event.

Other interesting /helpful tidbits:


A Home for RTP’s Founding Universities

Archie K Davis

If you drive down T.W. Alexander in the Park, you’ll likely see signs noting that you’re on the TUCASI campus. While the acronym isn’t immediately discernible, TUCASI stands for The Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Studies, Incorporated and was the first model through which RTP and the Research Triangle Foundation sought to strategically support the founding universities — Duke, UNC-CH and NC State — and to ensure they had a permanent home in the Park.

TUCASI was the brain-child of Archie Davis, one of the Park’s founders. Mr. Davis was the person who went around the state in 1958-59 and convinced citizens and companies from all 100 counties in North Carolina to donate funds toward the creation of an economic development strategy that would ultimately become RTP. Mr. Davis was also committed to the idea that what makes RTP special is our relationship with the founding universities. He wanted to make sure they always had a place in the Park and that the Park/Foundation could continue to support collaboration among the three.

In the early years, TUCASI’s activities were focused around giving the universities the types of foundations and tools that would help them excel. For example, the Triangle Universities Computation Center, the Triangle Universities Library Network, and the Triangle Universities Licensing Consortium were established under the auspices of TUCASI. In addition, TUCASI as an organization worked to recruit institutes and centers that would enhance the state and encourage collaboration among the universities, including the National  Humanities Center and the NC Biotechnology Center.

Currently, the campus is also home to The National Institute for Statistical Sciences (NISS), the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund, MCNC and the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI).

In more recent years, TUCASI has become involved in programs that continue this spirit of collaboration among the founding universities. Examples of these include REACH NC — a Web portal that enables users to find experts and assets within North Carolina higher education and research institutions and TIP - a two-year effort conducted in collaboration with RENCI to determine how Triangle area universities access, manage, and share ever-growing stores of digital data. In October of this year, TUCASI is pleased to help support the hosting of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing’s New Horizons Conference and joining others across the Research Triangle region in telling of the innovation and discovery that is taking place in our own backyards.

These descriptions only scratch the surface of TUCASI, but provide a taste of what makes RTP different from other research parks. For more information on TUCASI, check out a  summary of its earlier years and/or chapters in A Generosity of Spirit — a book detailing the establishment of RTP and the stewards who made it all possible.

Summer already?

For most, February 13 is a day to confirm dinner reservations or take advantage of express, overnight shipping to ensure Valentine’s Day goes off without a hitch. For some parents in the Research Triangle region, February 13 — at least for this year — marks the date on which many summer camp registration sites open.

Luckily, for the “science attentive” and/or their children, there is a range of options for making productive use of summer vacation while learning how to put science into practice….& many close to RTP.

In full disclosure, this is not an inclusive list by any means — it’s a bit Durham/Chapel Hill centric since that’s where my commuting trail places me and geared toward the elementary school years since that’s where my family’s demographic lies. Carolina Parent has an awesome directory that covers the entire region (and non-science oriented camps).  Check it out for a more complete picture of all the region has to offer.

  • Morehead Planetarium: For those who attended the Food Truck rodeo last week, this is old news, but…the Planetarium will be expanding its traditional options held at UNC with a new camps just outside RTP at Kestral Heights (very close to the Hwy 54/55 intersection just west of RTP). Options include subjects ranging from dinosaurs, aquatic life, bodies in motion, the Magic Treehouse, LEGO, and rocket science.
  • Duke School: While not all of the Duke School programs are science oriented, they do take the school’s tradition of project-based learning to a new level of fun. Science-oriented camps include dinosaurs, a science Olympiad challenge, an ipad apps Bootcamp, a CSI forensic science track, one focused on building LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robotics systems, one that looks at science in action, and even a space camp for the younger set (ages 4-5).
  • Museum of Life + Sciences: ML+S also has two campus options to choose from — the museum itself near Northgate in Durham or at Rashkis Elementary School in Chapel Hill. Their offerings include an Eco Science one that lets students look at food chemistry, what’s involved in LEED building and recycling. Others involve oceanography, leveraging the wildlife that lives at the museum to explore farm animals and more, and even one that lets campers know what it’s like to run a museum. (Registration is still only available for members at this point, but will open to the general public on February 22).
  • Marbles Kids Museum: For those in Raleigh, Marbles has an extensive schedule of possibilities. In addition to several of the above tracks listed, they have a magic one (which gets a gold star for name creativity - Abra-Kid-Dabra), an inventors challenge that includes exciting team projects, games and team-building exercises, and a science sleuth one that looks at common “myths” through hands-on science fun (hmmm, future Mythbusters in the making).

What Drives RTP Companies?

One of the greatest assets of RTP is its companies. With more than 170 of them employing more than 38,000 full-time workers, they range from the 1-2 person start-ups to campuses with thousands. They represent a vast array of cutting edge technology that works to resolve some of the world’s most pressing problems or to create the next best app/device/tool to increase productivity in a range of disciplines. In short, they all do pretty neat stuff.

Recently, as I was trying to get a sense of industry trends and issues most critical to our companies,

I found blogs by the leaders of two of RTP’s
I’ll be on the look out for other examples, but in the meantime, here is a glimpse of what GSK and  Cisco see on the horizon:companies that give a sense of the challenges facing their companies and their ideas to address them.

  • GSK’s Triple Solution: The first is a blog that Deidre Connelly, GSK’s President, Pharmaceuticals NA posted for the British American Business Council. Within the blog, she notes  GSK’s approach to prevention, intervention and innovation to help the people of the world “do more, feel better, and live longer.” She references an article by GSK CEO Andrew Witty in which he discusses how the company — and entire industry — must better “harness intellectual diversity and unleash creativity” to develop drugs more efficiently but also its need to apply that ability to innovate to reconsider its business model.
  • Using the Network to Drive Innovation: In this blog post/video, Cisco CEO, John Chambers suggests that mobility and connectivity will push content and drive innovation. He also notes the importance of bringing together diverse groups to tackle today’s and future problems. Nothing how smart networks have fundamentally changed the way people live — not only how we work and play, but how we address issues like healthcare and how we collaborate to innovate and discover more. He notes how innovation must be enabled by technology and operational excellence if it is to be effective.

What the Future Holds for Gen Z

When the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State was established twenty years ago, the idea was to “put ideas into action and to ensure the state’s future success.” In the preceding years, the annual Emerging Issues forum has brought to light issues and changing dynamics that potentially create greater opportunity for North Carolina’s continued competitiveness or pose challenges to that vision. Through the forums, the state’s leadership and citizens have examined issues ranging from tax policy to creativity and from energy and the environment to healthcare.

This year’s forum promises to be equally thought provoking. On Monday and Tuesday of next week, people from around the state will gather at the Raleigh Convention Center to listen to insights into the challenges that face Gen Z — that cadre born between 1990-2000 who have come of age not knowing what life before Google was like and who (as reported in a recent Cisco poll) would rather lose their purse or wallet than their smartphone device. (And many of whom — I would wager– wouldn’t know what I am referring to when I note that Obi Wan looks a lot different with brown hair in the current Star Wars movie….).

The conversation will force baby boomers and Gen Xers to think through ways to better integrate this upcoming generation into our workforce and will look at trends that will have significant impacts on the skills that they need — and may not need — to realize their goals.

Speakers from around the country include Robert Safian, EditorFast Company Magazine, Sally JewellPresident & CEO, REI, Ami Dar, Founder & Executive Director,, Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, U.S. Navy, and Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University (I’m especially interested in President Crow’s comments; I’m a former Sun Devil (employee) and was living in Phoenix when he began transforming ASU into the New American University).

In addition, some of our best local thinkers — including former Governor Hunt, Mike Walden, Madhu Beriwal, Chancellor Woodson, President Ross,  and Ted Zoller — will be featured, as well as a great representation from the state’s high schools, community colleges and university system.

And most fun of all, IEI will award its Prize for Innovation during the conference. This year’s prize challenged both college and high school teams to come up with innovative ideas to increase North Carolina’s high school graduation rate. Videos of the finalist candidates are online. Voting started Monday and will close Monday, Feb 6 at 5 PM.

Registration closes this afternoon. If you weren’t able to sign up to join the discussion and fun, no worries — they’ll be live-streaming many of the talks. (And I’m sure #NCGenZ on Twitter will be busy).

Finally — kudos and thanks to Diane Cherry, Anita Brown Graham and all of the IEI staff for pulling together such a great program.