Tinker AFB sent a full entourage of military and civilian leaders along with Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex Commander Brigadier General Jeff King to Oklahoma Christian University. The group toured OC engineering labs and met with professors and students before signing an Educational Partnership Agreement.
Acceleration of change is a trending phrase in the Air Force that has captured the attention of top leadership. Some of that advancement will come as a result of mutually beneficial, strategic partnerships like the one now shared by OC and Tinker. King recognized the value of bright young minds coupled with the experience of tenured professors before offering the benefits to working alongside Tinker.
"We can open the door to our massive industrial plant and provide students with real-world problems that will bring their academics to life," said King. "When they see themselves helping to solve current sustainment challenges that impact operational readiness, we know it's going to be inspiring."
The signing of the partnership took place at OC April 28, 2021, involving King and Associate Chief Academic Officer and Professor of Engineering Byron Newberry, Ph.D. At a catered luncheon, Newberry took the opportunity to highlight the history of collaboration between the university and the nearby AFB.
"The fingerprints of Tinker on this engineering program go back to 1987. Nine members of our advisory board are from Tinker," said Newberry. "We are in rapidly changing times. We cannot succeed by doing what we've always done. This relationship is powerful as we continue to adapt together."
While on campus, the group of OC and Tinker engineers caravanned across the grounds on golf carts coming to a stop at Prince Engineering. Program Chair for Electrical and Computer Engineering Jeff Bigelow, Ph.D. greeted everyone before identifying the three qualities of an OC engineer: ethical, hard-working and a skilled communicator. Like Newberry, Bigelow also referenced OC's historically tight bonds with Tinker related to curriculum development.
"We heard you (Tinker) when you said you need engineers who know software," said Bigelow. "We met with Tinker engineers, Northrup Grumman and Boeing to ask, 'What does that mean?' and developed our programs with your guidance."
Bigelow, along with other OC engineering faculty, created a project-centric program with the critical component of hands-on learning. As he listened to industry leaders, Bigelow identified the need for students to not only apply engineering to solving problems, but also learn the soft skills of working as a team.
Electrical and Computer Engineering senior Andrew Ash exemplified all of the qualities of an OC engineer as he demonstrated his team's capstone project. The device, that was designed and built by students, allowed the user to control multi-colored lasers. Andrew's presentation impressed the group of visitors which led to a rapid peppering of comments and questions.
"The skills you've learned here have a huge connection in Aerospace. You are exactly the kind of student we need in the Air Force," said Director of ALC Dr. Kristian Olivero.
"The greatest idea is worthless if you cannot communicate it. Well done," said King.
"The software/hardware interface is the most challenging piece. Your focus in this area strengthens our commitment to hire as many engineers that you can produce who are interested in national defense," said King.
"We don't get enough graduates from your program, but each one we are able to hire is outstanding," said Olivero. "We love them dearly."
Executive Director of Engineering Wade Wolfe started with technical questions, and eventually learned Andrew is from Marshalltown, Iowa. He lastly asked Ash about his college selection process.
"I looked at 200 engineering schools and applied to ten," said Ash. "OC gave me personal attention from the beginning of the application process. When I came to visit, I saw the Engineering Summer Academy and what freshmen were doing before even beginning school; putt-putt guidance and robot programming. We do all of our own design and programming. It was a clear choice."
Members of the group remained highly engaged as the tour continued through the mechanical machine shop, wind tunnel and 3-D printing labs. They met students involved with seat belt testing, full fatigue testing, building a car and an airplane.
"There is a lot of overlap between what you offer here and what we need. The fact that your classrooms are labs is germane to us," said King.
Wolfe emphasized the critical nature of solving military problems in ethical ways. The 10,500 individuals employed at Tinker AFB, of which only 150 are active military, must pair knowledge with wisdom. Eager to partner with OC to develop students into engineers of godly character, the leaders of Tinker promised to hire as many OC engineers that can be graduated!