The nonprofit Base 11 today announced that Morgan State University is the winner of a three-year, $1.6 million Aerospace Workforce and Leadership Development Grant, which will fund a state-of-the-art rocketry lab and launch a student rocketry team. Former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin was on hand to formally present the check to and inspire university students who were in attendance, to pursue aerospace as the “Next Frontier.”
The commercial space industry is expected to become a $2.7 trillion economic sector in the next 30 years, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Yet the industry faces challenges in recruiting a diverse workforce. According to the National Science Foundation, African Americans make up just 5 percent of the science and engineering workforce.
“We want to ensure that the next generation of space innovators is just as diverse as America,” said Melvin, a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions. “I am excited to see this generation of students getting critical hands-on experience in rocket technology, and I encourage Morgan State’s students to seize this incredible opportunity to reach for the stars.” The grant, which aims to improve diversity in the aerospace talent pipeline, was announced in June 2018, and drew proposals from eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Leland Melvin was joined by experts from Dassault Systèmes, Blue Origin, SpaceX, Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, and Base 11 in reviewing the applications.
“The proposals for the HBCU Aerospace Workforce and Leadership Development Grant were quite impressive,” said Base 11 Chairman and CEO Landon Taylor. “Morgan State is especially well positioned to leverage their existing resources, faculty expertise, and industry partners to launch a successful and sustainable rocketry program that brings hands-on, experiential learning to students.”
The grant will fund the build-out of a liquid-fuel rocketry lab at Morgan State, as well as the recruitment and hiring of an aerospace faculty leader to create a world-class liquid fuel rocketry program. Morgan State aims to bring together these elements to successfully build and launch a liquid fuel rocket that reaches 150,000 feet by 2022.
“We are honored that Morgan State University was selected for this competitive grant, and confident that it will further advance our efforts to increase diversity in the STEM talent pipeline, while also turning out workforce-ready talent in high-demand industries like aerospace,” said David Wilson, president of Morgan State University. “At Morgan we encourage our students to be bold and to aim for the stars, and with the launch of this program, we can provide them with the resources to take on that challenge literally.”
Morgan State will house the fledgling rocket program in its Center for Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies (CBEIS) building, the home of The School of Architecture and Planning and some of the University’s engineering programs. CBEIS is a gold certified LEED green building with solar water heating panels and a bioretention pond. Designed for the needs of the modern university student, CBEIS is also the home to the only earthquake simulator on the east coast and a supersonic wind tunnel. Students studying in this contemporary facility have access to printing labs that contain 2D and 3D printers and a fabrication lab where students can use technologically advanced cutting tools.
“With this very generous grant, we will bring together a cross-disciplinary team of faculty and external collaborators to develop and prepare our students for future opportunities in the commercial aerospace industry. This is an area loaded with opportunities for innovation and creativity, and in need of a more diverse workforce” said Dr. Willie E. May, vice president of research and economic development at Morgan State University.
The nonprofit Base 11, which focuses on increasing diversity in STEM fields, first entered the world of student rocketry in 2018, with the announcement of the Base 11 Space Challenge. This $1 million+ competition offers prizes for the first university team to design, build and launch a liquid-fuel rocket to the edge of space (100 km.) by the end of 2021. The challenge attracted entries from 32 teams from across the U.S. and Canada. Morgan State hopes to join forces with one of the teams competing in the Base 11 Space Challenge and help build a winning rocket.
“While many universities across the country have rocketry teams where students gain hands-on experience, what we’ve seen is that the number of women and underrepresented ethnicities on those teams remains quite low,” said Base 11’s Taylor. “That’s why this grant to Morgan State is so exciting – we have an opportunity to significantly diversity the pipeline the talent pipeline in aerospace.”