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Emory and Georgia Tech are a public-private powerhouse

By Paige Parvin | Emory Magazine | Nov. 6, 2013

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Emory President James Wagner and Georgia Tech President G. P. "Bud" Peterson talk about the benefits of their institution's visionary public-private partnership.

You could say that Emory and Georgia Tech go way back.

The first president of the Georgia Institute of Technology was Isaac Stiles Hopkins (1859, Emory College) an Emory graduate who taught and also served as Emory president from 1884 to 1888. Hopkins was the ideal forefather of an institutional relationship that lends tangible meaning to the ubiquitous term interdisciplinary. He earned a medical degree, was a minister for eight years, then taught Latin, English literature, and various science courses at Emory; he also launched the first technology department in the state from his home, where students brought their own tools to experiment and learn. Emory's technological program never really found its footing (or funding), but Hopkins's initiative led to his recruitment as the newly established Georgia Tech's president in 1889.

Current Emory President James Wagner and Georgia Tech President G. P. "Bud" Peterson chuckled over this shared chapter of history during a recent conversation in Wagner's office. "When people ask, you know, you're an engineer. When's Emory going to start an engineering school?, I say, well, back in the 1880s, we did," Wagner said. "And we're very proud of it, and we're not going to start another one."

Nearly a century would pass, though, before the Emory-Georgia Tech partnership began to take concrete shape as a national blueprint for collaboration between a private and a public research university. The foundation of the partnership is in the area of biomedical engineering, where research interests are arguably most complementary. The Emory-Georgia Tech Biomedical Technology Research Center's seed grant program began cultivating crosstown biomedical partnerships in 1987. Ten years later, the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Georgia Tech and Emory was created—the first and still one of the few jointly run departments between a private and a public university.

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