Ohio State and Air Force Creating Minority STEM Pipeline

Posted: November 3, 2021

The Ohio State University and the U.S. Air Force are teaming up with minority institutions to create a diverse pipeline of future STEM leaders.

Michael Groeber
Associate Professor Michael Groeber

The six-year, $40 million Minority Leaders-Research Collaboration Program II, funded by the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, is not a typical cooperative agreement program but more of a collaborative agreement for schools to engage with each other, says Michael Groeber, associate professor of Integrated Systems Engineering at Ohio State and research director for the project.

The AFRL Minority Leaders – Research Collaboration Program is uniting the Ohio State University, Wright State University, and North Carolina A&T State University to collaborate with Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to engage with the Air Force on materials, manufacturing, sensors and information research, and much more.

For the past 16 years, AFRL has been working with colleges and universities that encourage minorities in STEM education through its Minority Leaders-Research Collaboration Program.

The program recently got a shot in the arm when it came up for rebid. “Obviously they were doing great things, but we thought it was an opportunity to expand,” Groeber says. “We’ve seen the benefits of the program first-hand.”

AFRL Minority Leaders-Research Collaboration Program Manager Asheley Blackford says AFRL’s ties to academia are significant. “We’ve built a lot of long-lasting relationships with faculty and students,” she says. “The goal of the AFRL ML-RCP is to expand our reach to the 700+ MSIs across the country that can be involved. It’s good for the nation as a whole to have a pipeline of talented researchers and push science to the next generation.”

Through the agreement, advanced undergraduate and graduate minority engineering students will work with AFRL mentors throughout the school year and work in the lab for up to 12 weeks during the summer. In addition, members of the consortium will be able to submit project proposals and funding requests for research.

Blackford says the program fits with AFRL’s 2030 Strategy to expand collaboration and engagement with academia. She says the exposure for students allows them to see many facets of what takes place in an Air Force lab and the impacts the research has on their daily lives.

Groeber adds that before participating in the program the students’ understanding of what takes place at AFRL was “quite narrow.”

“The students were not aware of the amount of interaction that happens with industry,” he says.

Groeber says innovations in the aerospace sector usually begin in academia and industry. “The technical work and workforce development – this puts them together,” he adds.

Students receive guidance in technical writing, proposals, presentations and resumes.

“It’s professional and personal development for the students,” Blackford says. “It’s a pinnacle program for underrepresented students. It exposes them to as much of the Air Force as possible. The success to us is the collaboration we’re having – that thumbprint they’ve left behind in the research they’ve done for us. The benefit is seeing students come out of this and working for us. We’re creating highly skilled, highly trained experts who will be leading the nation.”

Groeber says he anticipates many benefits for Ohio State as well. “Obviously, AFRL can’t hire every student,” he says. “Hopefully, this increases our diversity and I hope this is a pipeline for our graduate school. And, that is a real benefit to Ohio State as an institution.

“Ohio State certainly has a lasting, long-term relationship with AFRL and a strong belief that it’s the right thing to do. We’re going to do good technical work because these schools are capable of doing the work. We appreciate the mission and vision of the program.”


Story by Nancy RIchison

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