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University of Utah, US Air Force strike historic education partnership

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Brig. Gen. Richard W. Gibbs, left, speaks with University of Utah students before a press conference in Salt Lake City on on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. The university and U.S. Air Force announced an education partnership that will allow university faculty and students to work more closely with Air Force researchers on a wide range of topics.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

As a child growing up in Hoytsville, University of Utah College of Engineering Dean Richard Brown was fascinated with jet engines — so much so that he attempted to build one for his bike.

What he actually built was a liquid-fuel rocket engine.

"Fortunately, for me and my younger brother Paul, who was the pilot on the bottom, we did not succeed in igniting the thing," Brown said Friday. "Otherwise, I would not be here to welcome our distinguished Air Force dignitaries to the University of Utah."

What has been explosive, though, is the growth at the U.'s College of Engineering and on Friday, the college took another step in that growth, welcoming an educational partnership with the U.S. Air Force and Hill Air Force Base.

"This new partnership will provide even more opportunities for hands-on experience and will create top-of-mind awareness for our students of the career possibilities of the base," Brown said. "It will also facilitate educational opportunities for base personnel through online and customized learning experiences."

Along with educational and career opportunities for both U. students and Hill Air Force Base personnel, the partnership will allow for collaborative research between the Air Force and the U.'s faculty on a wide range of topics, including data analytics, robotics, machine learning for materials discovery, prosthetics, nuclear engineering, additive manufacturing and more.

Richard B. Brown, H.E. Thomas Presidential Endowed Dean at the University of Utah College of Engineering, speaks during a ceremony at the University of Utah where the university and U.S. Air Force announced a historic education partnership in Salt Lake City on Friday.

Richard B. Brown, H.E. Thomas Presidential Endowed Dean at the University of Utah College of Engineering, speaks during a ceremony at the University of Utah where the university and U.S. Air Force announced a historic education partnership in Salt Lake City on Friday.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

Additionally, Air Force personnel will work with the U. on developing new educational programs, and will make laboratory personnel available to teach courses.

"The knowledge and expertise that the University of Utah offers will be a tremendous value in our pursuit of excellence," U.S. Air Force Commander Brig. General Richard Gibbs said. "This agreement is a huge win for both the Air Force and the university system here. I'm excited about the educational partnership and what it means for the future of the Ogden complex."

Jake Abbott is a mechanical engineering professor at the U. who has already been working on research with the Air Force. He said that the partnership will provide a wide range of opportunities for students to engage in different types of research.

"It creates a mechanism in which — if we have shared interests with folks at the Air Force and that's acknowledged that you have these shared interests — it just makes collaborations and exchange of information, exchange of resources, facilities, it just makes all of these exchanges smoother and quicker and will ultimately lead to research getting out of the lab and into the real world faster," Abbott said.

He said that oftentimes, academic research can be frustrating because students may have good ideas, but the funding to support those ideas isn't in place. Furthermore, even if there is funding and interest, it still takes "many years" to get contracts and agreements to the place where a student can actually work on that idea.

"These educational partnership agreements, it's almost like you pre-negotiated the contractual elements of it and it lets things go smoother after that," Abbott said. "For some people, it might be internship opportunities, for some people it might be access to data, access to information and for some people, it might be funding support in some way."

The five-year agreement allows the U. and the Air Force to combine resources that will benefit future projects on national security and other technologies, and encourage collaborations that will ultimately benefit Utah's technology sector, the university said.