August 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 4 
Main Feature

HBCU/MIs help engineer the future

Partnerships develop research, patent ties

Creating the new ideas, technology and diverse work force that Boeing needs to continue leading aerospace in the future will require tapping into new resources that strengthen and expand the company’s businesses. To help achieve this, Boeing partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions (HBCU/MIs). It’s part of Boeing’s strategy to develop beneficial research and patent relationships that will drive future business and customer growth enterprisewide.

Boeing currently partners with engineering programs at 26 HBCU/MIs worldwide, including California State University–Long Beach, Howard University, Spelman College and the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. Managers and engineers who work throughout the Boeing enterprise, including Phantom Works, serve as school liaisons and project managers.

“I believe this research initiative adds to our goal of a diversified work force—a goal established under Boeing’s Vision 2016,” said Oliver “Bo” Leslie, senior principal specialist, Supplier Diversity, and program manager, HBCU/MI Programs. “It makes good sense to do business with schools and educational institutions. It gives us opportunities to gain access to cutting-edge technologies, intellectual capital and potential job recruits. It also helps our businesses achieve better results and customer satisfaction.”

The HBCU/MI initiative derives from the first U.S. presidential executive order that advocated outreach and assistance to culturally diverse institutions of higher education. It was signed in 1978, and in 1986 the U.S. Congress passed the first legislation, which became a federal procurement law crafted to ensure that a fair share of contract awards were awarded by federal agencies to these educational institutions. Boeing recognizes that working with these institutions provides cost-effective access to technology transfer, intellectual capital, research and subcontracting opportunities, faculty development and a skilled and diverse recruiting talent pool.

HBCU/MIs help engineer the futureResearch and development performed in partnership with these schools has included, for example, automatic target recognition research at North Carolina A&T University and distributed multiprocessing avionics research at Washington D.C.–based Howard University. In 2003, Boeing awarded subcontracts valued at more than $2 million to HBCU/MIs. Boeing supplements this with technology, equipment and intellectual property donations and also annually invests thousands of dollars in student scholarship funds.

Boeing also has donated unused patents to these institutions. Typically, these have been patents that Boeing no longer uses or pursues and has donated to an HBCU/MI performing a closely related project, enabling the institution to carry on the research. In 2001, the company donated unused patents relating to optical logic and optical computing technology to the Alabama A&M University Research Institute. In 2003, Boeing donated two unused patents relating to engine pollution control technology to Florida A&M University and, most recently, donated five patents to California State University–Long Beach.

A prime example of Boeing-university synergy is its partnership with Nashville-based Tennessee State University, which is under subcontract to assist in the development of the Expanded Accommodation Project. Launched in 1998, Boeing provided TSU with the initial concept, vision and funding from Phantom Works’ Advanced Platform Systems. Under the guidance of Ed Winkler, Boeing Technical Fellow/Human Systems Integration at Phantom Works, TSU students and faculty have worked on design methodologies and research to further develop this computer-based accommodation tool, which is used to evaluate and quantify the physical accommodation of all types of design spaces, such as aircraft cockpits.

“This tool is the first of its kind, and a U.S. patent is pending” Winkler said. “It is a direct method for verifying that requirements are being met, and the invention will improve quality and dramatically reduce time and cost. This project would not have evolved so quickly and cost-effectively without the TSU partnership.”

Winkler added: “It’s an invaluable opportunity for the students to see industry at work and the variety of projects that they may be assigned at a company. The professor and students have been outstanding innovators and integrators to help turn our research ideas and goals into solid transitional products for our internal customers.”

For the university and students, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.

“Generally, students graduate without practical experience, but the project with Boeing has given our engineering students practical, real-world experience,” said Landon Onyebueke, associate professor at Tennessee State University’s School of Engineering, Technology and Computer Science.

“Boeing has helped the students academically and financially,” Onyebueke said. “Boeing’s partnership and investment have provided students with stipends that enable them to work on the project. Overall, it has been a wonderful and rewarding relationship with Boeing for the school and for the students.”

—Katherine Sopranos


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