First HBCU-Linked Research Center’s Underway

The first HBCU-affliated Air Force research center is in the works

Ebony Stadler, a rising senior studying biomedical engineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, participates in a 10-week summer research program administered by the Department of the Navy's Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institution (HBCU/MI) program. In addition to conducting scientific research at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., the interns attend scientific and skill-set seminars on topics including laboratory safety, ethics in science and engineering, job search, and interviewing skills and resume writing. Taken June 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of John F. Williams, US Navy.

The Department of Defense will create its first university-affiliated research center (UARC) at a historically Black college or university (HBCU). While it is the Defense Department’s 15th UARC, it is the first to be associated with an HBCU. It is also the first to be associated with the Air Force.

“This is an opportunity to tap into universities that have an enormous amount of capability in science and technology,” Frank Kendall III, the Air Force secretary, said during a briefing Monday at the Pentagon, according to a press release from the Department of Defense

Thirty percent of Black graduates in the area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students graduate from HBCUs. 

“This nation must have a strong national STEM workforce, since the future of our national security is dependent on our ability to grow our STEM talent,” said Heidi Shyu, the defense undersecretary for research and engineering. “We’ll only accomplish this through the cultivation of a highly diverse workforce. Diversity of background and a diversity of ideas has always been the strength of this country … We must tap into the HBCUs to grow a well-educated and well-trained workforce for the Department of Defense and this nation.”

The chosen HBCU will be one of the 11 schools that have a R2 Carnegie Foundation Research Classification. No HBCU has yet received a R1 classification, or “very-high research activity” classification.


“However, Through this effort. We’re hoping to ensure that at least one, if not more, institutions become R1,” Victoria Coleman, the chief scientist of the Air Force, said. 

The 11 eligible schools are: Prairie View A&M, Southern University and A&M, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Tennessee State University, North Carolina A&T, Morgan State University, Florida A&M, Clark Atlanta University, Jackson State University, Howard University, and Texas Southern University. 

The research center will be focused on “tactical autonomy,” or “autonomous systems acting with delegated and bounded authority of humans in support of tactical, short-term actions associated with a longer-term strategic vision.”

According to Secretary Kendall, this is an existing gap at the Department of Defense.

“We’re very focused on the threat of Chinese military modernization and what that means in terms of the viability of our forces,” Kendall said. “Part of the future of the military is going to be autonomy. There’s no doubt in my mind … we’re seeing increasing evidence of that almost in every conflict that that occurs … it’s here to stay, and we need to be at the front edge of that. This is an opportunity to tap into universities that have an enormous amount of capability in science and technology.”

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