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Historic Dover AFB agreement to benefit University of Delaware STEM students

  • Published
  • DAF T3

AGREEMENT TYPE: Educational Partnership Agreement (EPA)

PARTNER NAME: University of Delaware

If there’s a way to perform dangerous tasks more safely and efficiently, while freeing up the warfighter for other important objectives, you can be sure the Air Force is highly interested. That’s at the heart of a newly signed Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Bedrock Innovation Laboratory at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and the University of Delaware (UD).

The agreement – which is the first of its kind for Dover AFB – includes loaning Air Force laboratory equipment and making Dover AFB laboratory personnel available to teach science courses or otherwise assist in the development of courses and materials. This could eventually lead to some of these students coming to work for the Air Force in the field of autonomy.

“The collaboration with the University of Delaware will primarily focus on autonomy projects,” Bedrock Chief Innovation Officer Maj. Ryan Nichol explained. “Dover AFB's mission is to provide rapid global mobility to project our nation's power at a moment’s notice. (T)here are many use cases that can be automated to make the process more efficient. From airfield inspections utilizing unmanned aerial systems to cargo processing, automation can free up our Airmen to perform duties that speed up operations and increase our combat ability.”

The primary objective between the two entities, as stated in the agreement, is to develop a program under which UD students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and computer science may be given academic credit for work on defense laboratory research projects, “pertaining to, among other things, mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering, materials science, systems engineering, applied mathematics, computer science, including applications of aerial vehicles, robotics, artificial intelligence, environmental sciences, additive manufacturing, automation and predictive maintenance”.

Founded in 1743, UD is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university with the highest Carnegie research classification, and a national leader in bio-pharmaceutical research. According to Nichol, this partnership was facilitated by Innovation Program Lead Rob Nicholson of the Delaware Department of Technology and Information.

“As a prominent member of the state of Delaware's innovation ecosystem, (Nicholson) initiated the connection and the relationship grew from educational site visits and capability demonstrations,” Nichol explained.

Nicholson sees the agreement as something which will benefit both STEM students, the university, and the Air Force itself.

“(UD) gives environmental scientists and engineers a strong foundation in automation, robotics, and field technology experience,” he said. “Expanding these opportunities along areas of relevance to Air Force Research Lab

(AFRL) can enhance the expertise of current Air Force employees and also make UD students aware of career opportunities with the Air Force.”


Nichol believes Dover AFB is already experiencing positive returns from the agreement in the field of automation.

“The process of establishing the EPA has already benefited our innovation program at Dover AFB. As a result, we have accelerated our small unmanned aerial system program and strengthened ties with our state and local community,” Nichol said. While it is certainly an attractive proposition for academic institutions to partner with the Air Force, some programs may feel on the outside looking in. Nicholson has a tip that can lead to a successful agreement.

“The key is to seek specific areas of interest where alignment can be identified between Air Force personnel and university faculty,” he said.