Coming soon to a campus near you
This Advanced Manufacturing Day, MSU Denver has 60 million reasons to celebrate, thanks to its forthcoming Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building.
By Dan Vaccaro
When Lily Cornett passes the construction site for the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building at Metropolitan State University of Denver, she sees the future – her future.
Cornett is a third-year industrial design major and mechanical engineering technology minor with an interest in advanced manufacturing. Her career goal is to “make things that improve people’s lives” and thinks the new facility, slated to open in summer 2017, can help her accomplish that.
“The new building and advanced manufacturing classes will allow me to be exposed to the latest processes, materials and machines,” she said. “The real-world applications will be advantageous to me as a designer and could help me get a foot in the door within the field.”
While Cornett sees the facility having a direct impact on her future, Stephen Jordan, Ph.D, president of MSU Denver, sees the $60M facility changing the future of advanced manufacturing education.
Jordan pioneered the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences initiative, of which the building is the most visible component. The initiative also included the development of a multidisciplinary degree in advanced manufacturing sciences and the establishment of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Sciences.
The AES initiative grew out of conversations Jordan had with leaders in aerospace and advanced manufacturing. “Despite being two of our biggest industries, leaders kept telling me that they couldn’t find enough well-trained employees in our state,” he said.
Colorado’s aerospace industry ranks second in the nation for private-sector aerospace employment, and the state is home to more than 400 companies providing space-related products and services. Advanced manufacturing is Colorado’s fourth-largest private industry.
Seizing on an opportunity, Jordan worked with faculty and industry leaders to create a first-of-its-kind curriculum that integrated aerospace science; industrial design; civil, mechanical and electrical engineering technology; and computer science and computer information systems.
The curriculum, and subsequent degree, includes 25 new courses. It was specifically designed to graduate highly-skilled students whose background and academic experience meet the needs of a burgeoning Colorado economic sector – students like Lily Cornett.
Power in partnerships
David Klein, professor and acting chair of the Department of Industrial Design, stands in front of a whiteboard where floor plans for the new building have been taped.
He excitedly points out the classroom spaces and labs, highlighting some of the notable features. His hand lingers over one specific area of the plan – a gathering space for students.
“This is a place where students can just hang out,” he says. “They can share ideas, talk and study. That sounds like a small thing, but some of the best ideas for products come out of those seemingly casual conversations.”
Collaboration was a key principle in the design of the building and the curriculum, says Klein.
The prevailing feeling among faculty and students is that a priority on collaborative spaces will be a welcomed change, and is essential in student learning.
“Right now, there seem to be a lot of closed doors, not by intention, but just by the way our current space is laid out,” Cornett explains. “The design of the new building will promote mutual awareness about what is happening in different departments.”
More than half of the space in the building will be specialized laboratories that support specific skills and technical expertise. Many of those labs will have glass walls, providing a literal look into the world of manufacturing.
Devi Kalla, Ph.D., associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering Technology Program, can’t wait to show people around.
“The space will be very inviting,” he said. “It will enable us to showcase our state-of-the-art equipment and capabilities. I think it is a great recruiting tool, not just for potential students, but for community partners as well.”
The top level of the building is being called a “growth floor” and the hope is to rent the space to a private company in the aerospace or advanced manufacturing industry. The company could provide more real-world experience for students in the form of exposure and internships.
Fittingly, the building is also being funded in a collaborative way – a unique public-private partnership between MSU Denver, the state and the private sector. Each group is covering one-third of the cost and contributions from private corporations and individuals are still being sought.
If you build it, they will learn
From the window of his temporary office suite, Robert Park, Ph.D., can see the AES Building taking shape. The new director of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Sciences can’t wait to move into the space in summer 2017, but has plenty to keep him occupied in the meantime.
Among his goals for year one are developing industry and university partnerships as well as getting the word out about the AMS degree to prospective students. Given the innovative and career-relevant nature of the program, he believes the degree will be well received by students and their parents.
“There are so many opportunities for employment by companies in Colorado that are in need of such expertise,” he said. “And there are also many opportunities within these companies for career growth with exposure to areas such as product development, manufacturing process development, production management and logistics, to name just a few. I think students are going to be very excited.”
For Sandra Haynes, dean of the College of Professional Studies, there is also something special about being part of a program that ultimately changes the world.
“Students are learning to design and produce the parts that will ensure the success of the next satellite to Mars or the specialized medical device that could keep your grandmother alive. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?”