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O-Neil communication center marks one year at WSU

One year on, the O’Neil Center for Research Communication at Wright State University has found a niche in the community, managers say.

Founded and funded by Miamisburg defense contractor and technical writing firm O’Neil & Associates Inc., the center opened on Wright State’s campus in the fall of 2017 as a haven for those working to bridge the gap that can exist between engineers, technical professionals and communicators.

The center’s executive director is Brandy Foster, who hails from all of those worlds, having majored in English as a WSU undergraduate but having also worked as a lecturer in Wright State’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering. (Foster remains full-time faculty at Wright State.)

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The center is a demonstration of a new kind of partnership between industry and the university, Foster said.

“We are a new model of workforce development,” she said.

The non-profit center relies on not just O’Neil’s baseline funding but also on revenue from clients internal and external, said Hernan Olivas, president and chief executive of O’Neil.

“I am very pleased, absolutely,” Olivas said. “It’s matching the vision we had perfectly.”

So far, not only is the center growing, but the center has found a WSU student who has been able to get involved in an internal, virtual/augmented reality project at O’Neil, he said.

In fact, O’Neil recently hired at least two employees who hailed from the center.

“That was one of the points of the vision — how do we merge research and development here with academic knowledge as well?” Olivas said. “We’re doing that, and it’s great.”

The center — housed at the WSU Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration Building —offers writing, editing, marketing, social media and other communication services for engineering firms and other clients. Center staff also help train students to be the kinds of employees needed by O’Neil and companies like it.

Foster says the center has connected with clients from both sides of the fence surrounding Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The center also has remembered its roots, having employed in its first year 26 students in seven academic disciplines across both the Wright State main and Lake campus near St. Marys.

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“We’re getting ready to expand even more,” Foster said in a recent interview. A project management contract with the Air Force is driving some of that expansion.

“We’re doing a literature analysis for human performance, and I think that’s about all I can say,” she said with a smile when asked about the Air Force contract.

The center has done well enough in its first year to win a new, 1,100-square foot space in the Neuroscience Engineering building, with secure swipe card access and a lab, among other features, including projectors and private conference areas.

“Most of our clients were external in our first year,” Foster said. “We had 17 unique clients. Many of them were repeat clients.”

Customers ranged from The Greentree Group in Beavercreek, to new start-ups. The center has also developed a partnership with The Entrepreneurs Center in Dayton.

O’Neil, based on Byers Road, invested $675,000 into the center, plus assorted stand-up costs, an investment that was approved last year by both the company’s board of directors and the university’s board of trustees.

Said Olivas: “It’s just working all around.”

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