Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL) granted $6.7 million to University of New Mexico sectors for STEM research, with a focus on the development of spacecraft technologies and commercial applications from the research.
Matthew Fetrow, the director of AFRL tech management, said that the money is part of a five year grant to improve community outreach to STEM fields, increase economic and workforce development and connect AFRL technologies with students.
The principle UNM educator working with AFRL is electrical and computer engineer professor, Rafael Fierro. He said the lab facility for the research is “populated with robots, computers and 3D printers.”
Lisa Kuuttila is the CEO and chief economic development officer for STC.UNM, a non-profit created by the UNM Board of Regents to provide economic development and encourage innovation. She said STC.UNM helps potential startup businesses from the Albuquerque community and at UNM and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology that have potential AFRL technology applications.
According to Kuuttila, AFRL is in partnership with STC.UNM, New Mexico Tech and K-12 Outreach.
Transfer Director Matt Gallegos at New Mexico Tech said that it is rare to see a “federal agency and research benefiting each other.”
Gallegos said that one of the benefits for the Air Force is they will be able to see the different perspective that students can approach and develop technologies.
Although other STEM departments are able to work with AFRL on the current research project, so far it only includes professors from the UNM School of Engineering.
“We’re bringing in companies to meet with (AFRL) on a regular basis,” Kuuttila said. “It’s really great exposure for the Air Force.”
There are currently 60 to 70 businesses who were aided by STC.UNM from Albuquerque. Some of these businesses include student ventures such as UNM senior Kyle Guin’s businesses.
Guin is a Liberal arts major with two businesses at STC.UNM that include a mobile app and photography technology. He has a membership with their Innovate Research Laboratory, which is a warehouse with 3D printing, carpentry and various electrical tools. Guin said that he benefits from the partnership.
“I go over to the (AFRL) for advice and tips — they’re really helpful,” Guin said.
The offices for STC.UNM and AFRL are located at the Lobo Rainforest building. Gallegos said he sees the crossing of these different sectors as a way to “cultivate great ideas with positive outcomes.”
The partnership between AFRL and UNM also includes K-12 STEM outreach. Karen Kinsman, the director/senior program manager of the STEM-H Center for Outreach, Research & Education, assists setting up K-12 STEM competitions and expos.
She said AFRL supplies resources to all of the K-12 grade STEM events. She said for one of the secondary school expos, AFRL supplied it with everything they needed.
“They brought everything in. They set everything up. We said we need five tables, ten chairs — they brought it,” Kinsman said.
Kinsman said she sees the partnership agreement as a way to help engage younger students in STEM fields.
“It’s a way to help students get introduced (to) different career opportunities that they might not have known existed,” Kinsman said.
Sol Traverso is a freelance news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SolTraversonic.