Tech Transfer Stars is an opportunity to highlight those making a difference in the federal tech transfer community. This week's Tech Transfer Star is Bartley P. Durst, director of the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) within the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), and recent FLC Laboratory Director of the Year Winner.
1. Can you tell us a little about your professional journey and how you ended up at the ERDC?
I grew up working on the family farm, so I was raised with a very strong work ethic. In my freshman year of college, I signed up in the cooperative education program and began my ERDC career as a research civil engineer intern in 1983. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Mississippi State University.
2. What do you love about your job?
Throughout my career I have worked with amazing people who are passionate and proud of their work. The teams I lead are often called in to solve our nation’s toughest challenges. One of the greatest rewards of my job is that the work we do saves lives. This is a very proud accomplishment for our entire organization and truly a blessing for me.
3. What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?
Choosing the academic field of civil engineering at Mississippi State University and working as an intern at Waterways Experiment Station (WES) in Vicksburg, Mississippi, set me up for lifelong success. I had no idea at that young age that I would spend my entire career in research and development. At WES, which later became the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), my career has been more like a jungle gym than a ladder. My career at the ERDC has allowed me to solve problems around the world and in almost every state of the U.S. As I reflect on my 39+ years in the federal government, I would not change a thing. I know that my work over the years has made our world safer and better. I look forward to more great things to come!
4. What is the focus of your lab?
I lead a team of more than 450 researchers and support staff in developing technologies primarily within the realm of geotechnical and structural engineering and the geosciences, addressing both civil works (such as water resources infrastructure for flood control and navigation) and military engineering challenges (such as force protection, force projection, and maneuver support).
5. Tell us a bit about your lab culture?
In the GSL we have created a culture of high-impact technology transfer. Over the last five years, we have doubled the number of licenses of our intellectual property, more than doubled the number of Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and tripled the number of patents. It is a common best practice in our laboratory for technology transition and transfer to be addressed at program initiation.
6. Tell us a bit about the program, ERDCWERX, you created and its impact.
ERDC has established a Partnership Intermediary Agreement through DEFENSEWERX known as ERDCWERX. ERDCWERX focuses on three main objectives: enhancing technology transfer, promoting ERDC technologies through marketing, and workforce development for the ERDC enterprise. ERDCWERX is an added multiplier for the mature technologies from the ERDC portfolio to get to the marketplace; for the military and homeland users. This creates jobs in our region and a technology ecosystem linking ERDC to industry and academia throughout the nation. When innovations and breakthrough discoveries made in our lab transition out of the laboratory and into the marketplace, they have positive and lasting impacts on both the economy and our society as a whole.
7. Collaboration is key to successful tech transfer partnerships. What types of partnerships does ERDC take part in?
If you are not partnering these days you are dying. ERDC partners with multiple government agencies, academia, industry, and international partners. We connect through mechanisms and authorities such as ERDCWERX, Other Transaction Authority (OTA), Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA), Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESU) National Network and International Partnership and Exchange agreements. These mechanisms and authorities allow us to effectively secure great relationships with partners worldwide. Partnering is extremely important to us at the ERDC.
8. What challenges do you see on the horizon for your lab?
The challenge we face is maintaining a talented world-class workforce. This is paramount for all organizations today, to deliver high-impact outcomes. Our workforce must make use of our parent organization’s mechanisms that are already in place, such as our Office of Research and Technology Transfer (ORTT). As a laboratory director, I am synchronized with the echelons above us – the ERDC, the Army Corps of Engineers and the entire Department of Defense--in terms of what is out there and available to assist our laboratory. Relationships and communication are essential for all laboratories especially for a small laboratory as compared to one with a 1000+ workforce. It is critical to be able to effectively communicate inside the organization, but more importantly to utilize our external communication and processes for greater success.
9. How are you preparing your office for the evolution of tech transfer?
Our people are our most valuable asset and are the keepers of technology transfer. Over the past five years, ERDC has put in place a long-term training program to send engineers and scientists to one year of study at a university of their choice that meets our mission needs, as well as fuels the capability of our organization. ERDC also maintains an in-house graduate institute in which our engineers and scientists can earn advanced degrees from various universities while continuing to work. These are very high-impact, competitive opportunities for our employees who aspire to further their educations and achieve doctorate and master’s degrees. These programs have a huge payoff for us, allowing our organization to grow the next generation of experts and leaders in their fields.
10. What is your advice for working effectively with labs and lab directors?
It is important to draw connections between your own mission and touch points of other labs’ missions, to show how working together is of mutual benefit. Teaming efforts across laboratories utilizes the strengths of each lab for solving highly complex multi-disciplinary problems.
Click here to learn more about Barley and his recent Lab Director of the Year Award.