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Air Force, University of Utah enter into 5-year joint research partnership

By Deborah Wilber - | Nov 29, 2022
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Brig. Gen. Richard Gibbs speaks during a signing ceremony in the University of Utah's Warnock Engineering Building about a new education partnership between the university and the U.S. Air Force.
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The University of Utah Air Force ROTC color guard presents the Utah and American flags during a signing ceremony celebrating a new education partnership between the university and the U.S. Air Force.
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Erin Rothwell, interim senior vice president for research at the University of Utah, speaks during a signing ceremony in the Warnock Engineering Building about a new education partnership between the university and the U.S. Air Force.

Engineering students at the University of Utah now have the opportunity to collaborate with top minds of the U.S. Air Force in conducting research projects via a new partnership between the Salt Lake City institution and military branch.

The partnership was birthed through the efforts of Col. Michael Warner, associate director of engineering and technical management at the United States Air Force Sustainment Center. Having previously taught as a faculty member at the USAF Academy, Warner was keen to create an education partnership agreement with the research-driven university.

While it did not take Warner very long to produce a first draft of the agreement, U of U College of Engineering Dean Richard Brown said it took a while for the document to move through the Air Force hierarchy before receiving its last signature of approval on June 7.

With top brass from the Department of the Air Force set to attend a signing ceremony in celebration of the partnership, Brown said they opted to wait until summer was over so more students would be available.

“Involving all engineering students is a great thing for many reasons, but explicitly because of internships,” Brown said.

University students as well as faculty members will benefit from the agreement by allowing them to work closely with Air Force researchers on a variety of topics such as data analytics, machine learning for materials discovery, prosthetics, nuclear engineering and additive manufacturing, among others.

Hill Air Force Base personnel and university faculty and students will visit each other in doing joint research as a way to welcome one another and generate ideas in different working environments.

Currently not equipped to conduct classified research projects, U of U researchers will have access to otherwise unavailable resources from the USAF including state-of-the-art equipment.

U of U faculty and staff are not required to have security clearances for work and interactions with the USAF under the agreement.

The partnership will be mutually beneficial, Brown said, with university faculty having expertise in areas of great interest to the Air Force.

Brig. Gen. Richard Gibbs, commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill, said deepening their relationship with the university through mentoring, internships and collaboration on defense laboratory projects is a great opportunity for the Air Force to find ways to transform operations to better and more efficiently sustain weapons systems and components in support of national defense.

Although university officials have indicated they have no intentions of losing their educational partnership with the USAF, the agreement does require a renewal after five years.

“It’s always a good idea to have a way out,” Brown said.

USAF personnel looking to further their education in obtaining a master’s degree or certificates can do so through the university’s online program.

The College of Engineering at the U of U has experienced tremendous growth over the years, Brown said, with a current enrollment of 6,411 students.

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