Engineering and Science Faculty and Students Visit Air Force Research Laboratory — Drs. Claude Brathwaite & Alan Shih

by Amanda Salazar

Shortly after a leadership group from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s, or AFRL, Information Directorate visited City College, a travel plan for CCNY faculty, research staff and students to visit the Information Directorate at Rome in upstate New York was soon in discussion between the CCNY Office of Research and AFRL.

This March 31 trip brought 31 CCNY community members to Rome, New York on an extended day trip to tour the lab facilities, meet researchers, watch equipment demonstrations, and learn about the professional opportunities for both students and faculty at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

AFRL is the Air Force’s principle scientific research lab, working on research projects in the areas of cybersecurity, quantum, artificial intelligence, drone development and communication security. However, the general public may not be familiar with the research that is conducted at this hidden gem in the heart of New York State.

The Rome facility was established in 1942 as the Rome Air Depot. The space was used for testing and  repairing plane engines. During World War II, more buildings were added to the then Griffiss Air Force Base. These buildings were used as post-war offices and labs, and radar units were established there, as well. In the ‘70s the site was used for War on Drugs reconnaissance microwave physics research. It wasn’t until 1990 that the space became the Rome Laboratory after the Base Realignment and Closure Commission shuttered the Griffiss AFB location.

The CCNY group was the largest visiting group that the Information Directorate ever hosted. To ensure better presentations, discussions and demonstrations, CCNY participants were split into four groups to rotate through various demonstration stations across the laboratory. Activities included laboratory tours such as chip design and fabrication, a junior member panel discussion, meeting the DEI Affinity group leaders, Wargaming, Android Tactical Awareness Kit, or ATAK, SecureView, image processing and robot dog demonstrations.

“[The robot] demonstrated is very nimble and agile,” said Dr. Alan Shih, Director of Research Development who also coordinated the trip.  “Students and faculty certainly were very excited to see how the robot behaved. I know I was.”

Another large component of the visit was learning about all the opportunities that the Department of Defense and AFRL locations, including the Information Directorate, have to offer students and faculty, including scholarship programs for student’s current and future educations, internship opportunities to be involved in cutting-edge, high-impact technology to aid in the defense of the nation and full-time employment opportunities available at AFRL. Faculty and research staff learned about the Summer Faculty Fellowship Program, research areas that are of high interest to the Air Force, the process of establishing education partnership agreements and how to establish connections to AFRL.

During a previous visit, held in November 2022, AFRL researchers received tours of the CCNY labs and presentations from several engineering faculty. The goal of these mutual visits, according to Dr. Shih, is to develop a long-term relationship with the AFRL that will forge a mutually beneficial research collaboration and workforce development.

“I think part of the [visit] was to think of how do you develop these long-term relationships that are on multiple levels,” Director of Student Resources and Services at the Grove School of Engineering Dr. Claude Brathwaite said in an interview. “The pipeline for training and mentoring, research collaborations between faculty, staff and students. Then there’s the industry component that is there.”

CCNY sees this relationship development as a way to encourage CCNY students’ strong participation in the summer internships and potentially post-graduation employment. It is also the objective to enable professional opportunities for faculty members. The hope is that it will not just be one or two or three visits — it will be close research collaboration and a long-term partnership in workforce development.

“The thinking is to develop a long-term plan of these collaborations,” Brathwaite said. “The whole thinking here is to not make this a one-off. It is to be building, so that by the time you look around to next summer, we can expect to have a number of students and faculty placed there. To have something going on so that AFRL becomes a place for student and faculty training and research; to actually have a real partnership taking place.”

CCNY and AFRL are in active discussion to potentially welcome AFRL Information Directorate research staff to campus again sometime in the fall.

Editor’s Note: Drs. Claude Brathwaite and Alan Shih, who were quoted above in this story, both also work on The RICC.

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