CPP lands $5M from Air Force Research Lab

By: Noemi Vargas and Joshua Hernandez, May 4, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona’s Department of Aerospace Engineering is preparing to launch more research as it is set to receive $5 million in funding from the Air Force Research Lab in order to stimulate educational growth in the STEM field and continue developing new Air Force technology such as drones and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The funding emerged from an Educational Partnership Agreement between the AFRL and both Cal Poly universities approved by the secretary of defense. The goal, according to U.S. Representatives Norma Torres, Grace Napolitano and Salud Carbajal, is to create innovative aerospace technology that will aim to improve the U.S. National Security Defense Strategy.

Kenny Villanueva, an aerospace major, works on piping for the liquid rocket at Cal Poly Pomona, March 15, 2018.

Frances Teves, assistant vice president for government and external affairs stated educational partnerships are established by the secretary of defense, allowing universities to apply for funding.

She added, “We identify areas of focus that align to institutional priorities and areas in which we are strongly focused. Then we pick an area that accelerates the research and mission objectives of the Air Force Research Lab.”

The formal agreements target all levels of education, but primarily institutions serving women, minority and any underrepresented group in the engineering and science field.

The decision to award Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was withstanding for several years now, and has allowed for research by faculty and students to develop projects involving liquid rockets, supersonic wind tunnels and unmanned aerial vehicles.

“The whole idea is that you’re trying to develop a skilled workforce pipeline for issues not only for defense but also for commercial applications,” said Teves.

Teves added that the educational partnership with the Air Force is not only an opportunity for the Air Force Research Lab to gain advancements in technology, but it is also an opportunity for CPP students to have access to “state-of-the-art” equipment.

“It really gives students an opportunity to touch and utilize and have experience in a hands-on way,” said Teves. “It is surely part of our learn by doing approach, so that when they get into the workforce they already have that experience. That’s really what is key here.”

The $5 million grant will be the second allocation awarded within six months. The funded research will include seven projects, 17 faculty members, nine departments and five colleges.

Alan Fuchs, associate dean for research and faculty advancement in the College of Engineering, has experience overseeing the research programs, realized the important role CPP plays in the partnership with the AFRL.

Fuchs stated, “Research is a very important part of what the Air Force Research Lab does and so we offer them an opportunity to carry out research here at the campus. A very important piece of what we do relates to workforce development that’s very important for the Airforce Research Labs.”

Fuchs added that one of the seven projects that is expected to be completed before the fall 2021 semester is the building of an additional liquid rocket lab.

The liquid rocket lab is a learning outlet available with a main focus in providing the necessary training so students can assume roles in the aerospace industry.

University President Soraya Coley admired the hard work and dedication faculty and students have demonstrated in this ongoing research.

“The reason that there is a respect in regard to being a polytechnic school is because we focus on both the educational dimension but also on the research,” said Coley. “Combining the two, I think, is what really stands out in terms of the quality of the work and the creativity associated. We really draw across disciplines, so it is both the quality of the singles that we produce and our approach to conducting the work. They get the best of our thinking from multiple disciplines.”

Feature image courtesy of Tom Zasadzinski

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