Air Force, Ohio State announce partnership to improve diversity in science, engineering

mhuson General, Grants, Innovation, Materials and Manufacturing for Sustainability

The Ohio State University and the U.S. Air Force are creating a national consortium to increase opportunities in the Air Force for minority STEM students and graduates.

Ohio State will co-lead the new effort with Wright State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The six-year, $40 million project, funded by the AFRL, will include summer internships for minority engineering students, access to specialized research equipment and laboratory space at AFRL, Ohio State and Wright State, and support for projects to be determined by collaborating with historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions. Ohio State will also work with minority institutions in developing technical proposals for research funding and will work collaboratively to create lasting infrastructure that encourages diversity in Air Force hiring.

“This funding provides an exciting opportunity for Ohio State to partner with minority institutions from across the nation to develop creative approaches to cultivating a prepared, diverse research workforce for the next generation of scientists for the U.S. Air Force,” said Morley O. Stone, senior vice president of research at Ohio State. “In addition, through this work, these organizations will be better positioned to propose and perform on AFRL research opportunities and the larger U.S. Department of Defense enterprise.”

Michael Groeber, an associate professor in integrated systems engineering (ISE) at Ohio State and research director for the project, said the primary goal of the project is to help the Air Force hire a more diverse STEM workforce.

Michael Groeber

“And the longer-term, grander goal is to better position HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions to be able to competitively respond to any science and technology call for proposals, and specifically to defense-related calls,” he said.

Groeber joined Ohio State through the Materials and Manufacturing for Sustainability Discovery Theme, operated by the Institute for Materials Research (IMR).

To achieve those goals, Ohio State will host monthly online seminars for collaborating institutions on such topics as proposal writing, developing research partnerships and establishing and sustaining facilities. Ohio State will also subcontract federal project awards to member institutions to create internal research programs and infrastructure that can help underrepresented minority science and engineering students get internships and jobs.

The AFRL has previously funded individual graduate student research projects in an effort to increase diversity; those projects will continue, but this effort is specifically designed to create a national infrastructure that will build a lasting pipeline that brings science and engineering students from minority-serving institutions to the AFRL and strengthens research connections between the AFRL and MSIs.

“Our fundamental goal is to develop the kind of community network that not only develops students’ skills, but also builds a meaningful relationship for the long haul between the institutions we’re working with — the HBCUs and MSIs — and the Air Force,” Groeber said.

That includes education and training for individual students, as well as education and training for institutional leaders, with the goal of making HBCUs and MSIs more competitive in proposing and winning technical research opportunities with the AFRL and with the U.S. Department of Defense as a whole.

The consortium will help member institutions identify potential projects and develop proposals for AFRL and other DOD research projects. The consortium will also subcontract awards to the participating members: The consortium leadership (Ohio State, WSU and AFRL) will review proposals, select projects for funding and offer technical support to MSI teams that receive funding through the consortium for research. And, the AFRL will work with researchers throughout the lab to identify projects that would benefit from outside help.

La’Tonia Stiner-Jones

“We are excited about this opportunity to strengthen our relationship with ARFL while strengthening current relationships and building new relationships with minority-serving Institutions,” said La’Tonia Stiner-Jones, assistant dean of engineering graduate programs at Ohio State and consortium director.

Ohio State plans to leverage existing centers and groups, including the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence, the Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis, the STEAM Factory and the Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, Groeber said. Those centers and others offer facilities, equipment and in-person training opportunities for students from minority-serving institutions that may not be currently available at their home universities.

Ohio State also partnered with Wright State to create a summer program for these students. The idea, Groeber said, is to provide students with access to the AFRL while they are in Columbus or Dayton attending classes or trainings. The environment at AFRL is unique, he says, and students can only truly experience the culture and research with strong personal experiences.

“We will also organize a road show, where every year we visit five or six MSIs located in one geographical region of the country to advertise the consortium, learn about their current technical capabilities, and discuss how to expand those capabilities,” Groeber said. “For example, if they want to duplicate a center we have at Ohio State, we can help guide them by sharing our experiences.”

In addition to Groeber and Stiner-Jones, the consortium leadership team at Ohio State also includes Elizabeth Newton, executive director of Ohio State’s Battelle Center.

Article originally published on Ohio State News (Laura Arenschield, Ohio State News) with additional info by Mike Huson (IMR Public Relations).