In 2014, global analytics firm LexisNexis opened its North American corporate innovation center on NC State’s Centennial Campus. In seven years, the center has grown from just 150 employees to nearly 800 computer and software programmers, analysts, legal and business experts, sales and marketing professionals and support staff. The partnership with NC State has expanded, too — largely fueled by research collaborations, unique branding opportunities and access to talent just around the corner.
“NC State’s collaborations with LexisNexis have led to technology breakthroughs while equipping our researchers and students with real-world training and insight,” said Leah Burton, director of NC State’s Office of Partnerships. “The benefit is definitely mutual. We view this as a case study for effective university-industry partnerships.”
We view this as a case study for effective university-industry partnerships.
“There are many major technology challenges that have to be addressed if you’re going to do large, big data stuff in the 21st century,” said Tim Menzies, NC State computer science professor and key research collaborator with LexisNexis. “We’ve worked with LexisNexis on many of these challenges over the years.”
Reading a large quantity of emails to find a small number of relevant ones is one of these challenges, Menzies explained. “The problem of reading is actually much more general. We read a lot of things. Any researcher going to an online database tries to find relevant papers. If you’re reading software source code, looking for security vulnerabilities, you’re reading code. Reading is a technology problem where, based on feedback of what you’ve read so far, AI can run ahead and say, ‘I think you should read this next.’”
Menzies and his team of grad students have also conducted extensive research related to industrial-scale text mining data — looking for predictors for significant business events. “As the world looks at complex streams of news, we’re all suffering from information overload,” Menzies added. “There is a need to recognize big events sooner. Our goal is to provide predictive analytics way earlier in the life cycle.”
Collaboration Leads to Solutions
Another challenge is the impact of slow performance, which is made more challenging in a world where everyone is competing for the cloud. Menzies’ team worked with LexisNexis engineers to better anticipate breakdowns in cloud services so they can be corrected before a slowdown occurs.
“Industrial practitioners often are racing to get their products out to the marketplace before their competitors,” Menzies said. “They may not have time to explore all the trillions of options inside their devices. NC State researchers can investigate these options and work alongside industry to find better solutions. NC State’s Department of Computer Science has been working with LexisNexis for many, many years now. Dozens of Ph.D. students have been funded and have also completed internships at LexisNexis in Raleigh and Atlanta.”
Zhe Yu earned his Ph.D. in computer science at NC State while working in the Real-World Artificial Intelligence for Software Engineering (RAISE) Lab under Menzies, collaborating with LexisNexis on several research projects and interning with the company for two summers. Yu is now an assistant professor in the Department of Software Engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology. “I think industry-university collaboration is really important because we can focus on more practical problems that the industry really needs and decide which problems are most worth solving.”
It’s beneficial for students to take part in these collaborations because it helps them decide where they want to work in the industry after graduation.
“We worked together on one project called ‘Discover a Cure,’” said Yu. “LexisNexis helps legal experts solve problems. It is a huge burden for the legal industry to find useful evidence from, say, millions of documents. We applied machine learning and data mining techniques trying to assist in this process. The AI assistant also trained a model to learn how the human makes the decisions and then help the human to make such decisions more efficiently.”
“This collaboration had a major impact on my Ph.D. study because I found that problem really interesting,” Yu continued. “And the solution we developed is, I think, quite powerful. It’s beneficial for students to take part in these collaborations because it helps them decide where they want to work in the industry after graduation.”
Talent Right Around the Corner
Joanne Henderson, who leads talent acquisition for LexisNexis North America, said the proximity and access to qualified interns and other employees has been invaluable.
“We have a really strong focus on cultivating talent because we know that a lot of the innovation is going to be driven by new ways of thinking that are being taught at NC State and how they’re preparing the future workforce,” Henderson said. “We’re able to take advantage of that.”
One of the primary campus talent attraction initiatives is the annual Rise to Code Hackathon, where NC State students participate in a two-day challenge to solve and present a solution to a business problem. Before the pandemic, the students would come to the Centennial Campus office, learn more about LexisNexis’ culture and meet with internal mentors who would help ensure their success throughout that experience. Mentors also identify high-performing students for potential internships and full-time opportunities within the company.
“Access to NC State talent has been instrumental to the success of our early-career programs, including our internship and co-op programs, and our new graduate technology program, called Aspire,” said Tabbi Fink, university programs lead at LexisNexis and 2018 alumna in business administration. “Our super-e partner sponsorship with NC State’s Department of Computer Science gives us niche access to student groups and organizations from which we heavily recruit.”
Access to NC State talent has been instrumental to the success of our early career-programs.
Some examples include roundtable events with women in computer science, resume reviews, senior design projects and hackathons, as well as sponsoring cybersecurity projects. Through these initiatives alone, LexisNexis recruited more than 50 NC State students to join its programs over the past three years.
“I think being an alumni of NC State has really put me in a unique position to understand the student perspective,” Fink added. “So working for LexisNexis, I’ve gotten to connect with and meet a lot of students who are currently in the programs, and also really share my own unique experiences, and connect with them on that level. Being located on Centennial Campus has been excellent because it’s really enhanced our company’s brand recognition with NC State talent.”
“Our growth on Centennial Campus has been sustained and supported by the leadership within NC State,” said Henderson. “And when you see that type of partnership, you are able to tell your story — what you’ll be able to do here, what LexisNexis means, the type of innovation and culture that we’re trying to drive. That ties directly to how being on NC State’s campus has been a key driver to that growth and that innovation.”
“We hire many NC State alums who graduated years ago and coming back to campus, it’s like coming home for them.”