Ground breaking

Construction of the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences building is underway.

By Roger Fillion

Publish Date: October 23, 2015

Officials at groundbreaking

MSU Denver faculty, staff, students and alumni and other
stakeholders gathered in front of an inflatable Orion spacecraft
Photo: Sara Hertwig

SEE more images from the Oct. 8 groundbreaking

MSU Denver is poised to revolutionize how students are educated to become highly skilled members of the next-generation manufacturing workforce. On Oct. 8, the University broke ground on a $60 million state-of-the-art Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building located on the southeast corner of 7th Street and Auraria Parkway. The building will house a new AES initiative that unites faculty and courses from eight disciplines under one roof. Faculty will teach an innovative curriculum created with input from industry officials that is designed to prepare students for tomorrow’s jobs in aerospace and advanced manufacturing.
“When we looked at what others are doing, nobody had come up with a solution like this to address the advanced manufacturing workforce,” said Ken Phillips, the former chair of MSU Denver’s Department of Industrial Design who chaired the committee tasked with developing the Advanced Manufacturing Sciences curriculum.
“This is a direct result of industry consultation,” said MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan. “Colorado’s aerospace and manufacturing leaders told us what they needed in our graduates. Our faculty stepped up to the plate, listened carefully to the employment needs of a major Colorado industry and developed a curriculum that is unique in the nation.”
The genesis of the University’s AES initiative dates back to the fall of 2012, when Jordan met with a White House policy expert. “I learned that the aerospace industry was clamoring for educated U.S. professionals who had the skills to build and manufacture their state-of-the-art designs for everything from satellites and rockets to robots and renewable energy platforms,” he later recalled. Soon after Jordan went to Washington, President Obama unveiled his advanced manufacturing program and states vied to add high-quality manufacturing jobs. Back in Colorado, Jordan and MSU Denver faculty huddled with industry leaders, investigated other college programs and met with government officials.

Using input gleaned from these meetings, MSU Denver developed the AMS curriculum, which features approximately 75 courses, 17 of which are brand new to the University. “It’s unusual to get that input on the front end,” said Phillips.

A new Institute for Advanced Manufacturing – to be located in the AES Building – will house the majors and courses that make up the AMS degree. Institute leaders will oversee collaboration between chairs and faculty of the departments involved and ensure that the AMS curriculum remains current. Students enrolled in the four-year program will earn a degree that pulls from eight distinct programs: aerospace, computer science, computer information systems, operations management, industrial design, and mechanical, electrical and civil engineering technology. Roughly two dozen faculty members from these departments will teach the curriculum.

College of Professional Studies Dean Sandra Haynes called the institute – MSU Denver’s first – an “administrative body that will make sure we’re delivering a curriculum that meets the needs of the industry. We want these students to be innovators in manufacturing.”

In addition to elective courses and general studies, students earning the AMS degree will be required to take 12 core courses that include technical writing, manufacturing materials and processes, trigonometry and engineering graphics. “It will give them a breadth of skills and knowledge,” said Phillips.

MSU Denver leaders said the AMS curriculum aims to fill a gap in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing workforce: non-engineering jobs that traditionally have been filled by engineers. “This non-engineering professional degree addresses a different employment niche than any other degree currently offered at MSU Denver and other Colorado universities,” said College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Dean Joan Foster.

Institute officials will reach out to local manufacturing and aerospace companies to develop student internships and form partnerships. Given that nearly 60 percent of the AES Building will be occupied by specialized engineering, computer and design laboratories, it’s reasonable to assume that some companies will be interested in building components on site with help from MSU Denver faculty and students – and the facility’s high-tech machinery. This includes computer numerical control machines – such as lathes, mills and routers – 3-D printers and computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software, or CAD/CAM.

The AES initiative comes at an important time for Colorado’s advanced manufacturing and aerospace industries. “The AMS curriculum and the institute are being created to address a well-documented workforce need for Colorado aerospace parts and systems manufacturing, as well as all advanced manufacturing,” said Foster. “Local industry has also told us they are concerned with the Colorado paradox, where we import many of our workforce professionals rather than educating our citizens.”

The state’s manufacturing sector has more than 5,900 companies, more than 120,000 employees and $16.3 billion in annual economic output, according to Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Within the sector, advanced manufacturing is Colorado’s fourth-largest private industry. Advanced manufacturing spans a variety of industries in the state, ranging from chemicals and food to computers and plastics. Some industries – like aerospace, electronics and bioscience – have more advanced manufacturing companies than others.

Colorado’s high-flying aerospace industry, meanwhile, ranks No. 3 in the nation for the size of its private-sector workforce, according to a report this year from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. The report – compiled by Littleton-based Development Research Partners – shows that Colorado’s aerospace cluster directly employed about 25,110 workers in 2014.

“As manufacturing becomes more automated and complex, it is going to require a different set of skills than traditional manufacturing,” said Joe Rice (B.A. history ’89), director of government relations at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., which is part of the industrial advisory council that has been working with MSU Denver officials to develop the AMS curriculum.

Rice noted the difference between traditional manufacturing and advanced manufacturing. In the former, paper and pencil – among other things – play a significant role. In the latter, advanced software, computers and other forms of digital technology and materials allow companies such as Lockheed to design and manufacture complex satellites and spacecraft.

“Projects are concepted and designed in a digital world. There are initial simulations and tests you can perform in a digital world,” Rice said. “The designs never touch paper. They’re designed in this digital tapestry.”

In addition to Lockheed Martin, MSU Denver has sought input from a range of other companies – all of which have Colorado operations. These include Sierra Nevada Corp., an electronics, engineering and manufacturing company; RK Mechanical Inc., a Denver-based mechanical contracting and manufacturing firm; and Davis Manufacturing Co., a Denver provider of machined components and assemblies for aerospace companies.

“This initiative is one of countless examples that demonstrate our commitment to working with industry to design relevant, career-focused programs,” said Jordan of the AES initiative, now taking physical shape as construction proceeds on the 142,000-square-foot facility, which is slated to open its doors to students for the 2017 academic year.
Jordan added, “We’re making a name for ourselves through our capacity for developing curricula and programs that serve the Colorado economy by addressing workforce demands and preparing our students to meet them.”