In an effort to promote research collaborations and workforce development, the City University of New York (CUNY) organized the first AFRL-CUNY Technology and Workforce Development Forum, with the active participation of leadership and researchers from the Air Force Research Lab Information Directorate (AFRL). Dr. Alan Shih, Director of Research Development at CCNY, organized the event with his AFRL counterpart, Dr. Timothy S. Kroecker, Principal Operations Research Analyst.
The forum’s central vision was rooted in the desire to build partnerships between CUNY and AFRL research communities, unlocking possibilities for advanced research and development projects between CUNY and the Air Force Research Lab located in Rome, New York.
“The idea is that by bringing both communities together, we can learn more about real-world challenges and needs that the AFRL already identified,” said Dr. Shih in an interview. “We can then brainstorm together new ideas and collaborate with them in their missions while further extending our research.”
The journey toward the forum began with a visit from AFRL leadership to City College back in November 2022, facilitated by Dr. Bruce Kim of Electrical Engineering (CCNY) where the groundwork for collaboration was laid.
“Two of their leadership came to us and met with our college leaders, president, provost, and associate provost for research,” Shih said, recounting the initial meeting. “We learned about each other’s work and goals, but the interaction was limited at that time.”
To bridge this gap, a reciprocal visit was organized to the AFRL Information Directorate in Rome, New York in March 2023. Around 30 students and faculty members from CCNY gained firsthand insights into the high-tech research conducted by AFRL.
“We realized that they are doing a lot of great and impactful work, many of which are very relevant research topics here on campuses across CUNY that we want to expand,” Shih said.
The forum, held in November 2023, became the platform where AFRL researchers, with in-person and virtual interactions, could go beyond high-level discussions with college leadership and instead engage with CUNY’s faculty members and students.
“We saw it as an opportunity to have both communities meet and discuss the current technologies, current research and focuses to move forward collaboratively to new directions,” Shih said.
“The AFRL was issuing multiple program proposal calls, so the timing was great,” said Shih. “Our students and faculty were not only able to learn about those ongoing funding opportunities but had the opportunity to discuss them with the AFRL participants to understand better what they are looking for and what outcomes they hope to achieve with those programs.”
The forum featured discussions, workshops and networking opportunities, providing a dynamic platform for knowledge exchange. Key areas of research collaboration were identified during the event, focusing on quantum science, cyber and robotic technologies.
Another primary focus of the forum was to increase student awareness of internship and employment opportunities at AFRL. An information session on summer internship and employment opportunities was part of the afternoon program.
The collaboration between institutions holds the promise of reshaping the research and development landscape, benefitting faculty and students not only academically but professionally as well.
A recent notable example is Dr. Jie Wei from the computer science department at CCNY, who was accepted for a summer 2023 faculty fellowship program at AFRL.
“He spent the past summer working with AFRL’s AI-related researchers, establishing a strong bond and better understanding of their focus,” said Shih. “I certainly see this as a success that hopefully, through this forum and collaboration, we can encourage more of our faculty and students to participate.”
Looking ahead, Dr. Shih envisions the forum as a first step towards a deeper, more concrete partnership with AFRL that creates new perspectives, accelerates technological advancements and a steady influx of skilled individuals into the workforce.
“I believe that such interactions should be continued,” said Shih. “Hopefully, we will be able to host events annually in person so that researchers in both communities will continue to strengthen collaborations in research on many technology fronts.”
Editor’s Note: Dr. Shih who was quoted in this article, also works on the RICC.
Sofia is a senior at CUNY Brooklyn College, where she’s pursuing her B.S in Journalism & Media Studies. In addition to writing for The RICC, she’s a writer for the features section of Brooklyn College’s student-run newspaper, The Vanguard. She is also a dedicated writer for the Brooklyn News Service.