Roadrunners Set To Soar Into Space

Former NASA Astronaut Leroy Chiao delivered the keynote address at this morning's groundbreaking of MSU Denver's AES facility. Image Credit: Sara Hertwig

Former NASA Astronaut Leroy Chiao delivered the keynote address at this morning’s groundbreaking of MSU Denver’s AES facility. Image Credit: Sara Hertwig

October 8, 2015 – A large and enthusiastic crowd – made up of industry and community leaders, MSU Denver faculty, staff, students and alumni, legislators and other stakeholders – gathered this morning for the groundbreaking of MSU Denver’s Aerospace and Engineering Sciences building. The $60 million facility promises to revolutionize aerospace and advanced manufacturing education with an innovative, cross-disciplinary curriculum that offers industry a direct pipeline of highly educated, skilled workers.

The event kicked off at 9 a.m. on the lawn of the Student Success Building with a welcome from MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan, who noted that the groundbreaking “signals a landmark public-private partnership benefitting the economic vitality of Colorado. This state-of-the-art facility will serve as a training ground for the next generation of professionals in advanced manufacturing, co-created with industry leaders.”

A keynote address by former NASA Astronaut and commander of the International Space Station Leroy Chiao followed. The veteran of four space missions recounted his journey to space and how the Apollo moon program in the 1960s captured his imagination. “Watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take the very first steps on another planetary body … that kind of sealed the deal for me. I knew I was going to try to become an astronaut,” he said.

Chiao proceeded to highlight how “technology helps us reach our dreams and will continue to change the way we work.” He guided the audience through the evolution of familiar technologies, including the fax machine, the first cell phones, the introduction of the Internet, modems, smart phones, and cloud-based and nanotechnology. “When you consider the evolution of technology in a scant 25 years, things like creating a flying car are just computer problems, it’s conceivable,” he said.

After displaying photographs of the earth that he took from space, Chiao noted the opportunities presented by the new AES facility and curriculum, and how MSU Denver is the ideal institution to imbue the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries with much needed diversity.

“Diversity isn’t just nice to have, it’s becoming a necessity for businesses to stay competitive,” he said. “The opportunity presented by the [AES] building and the program is something I’m going to take a lot of pleasure in watching progress in the coming years.”

Chiao’s keynote address was followed by a panel discussion – “Recruiting and Retaining a Global Workforce in Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing” – that featured five industry leaders who shared their perspectives on the importance of workplace diversity and fielded questions from the audience. The panel consisted of Dennis Little of Lockheed Martin; Art Maples of NASA; Tim Meurer of Sierra Nevada Corporation; Jeff Osterkamp of Ball Aerospace & Technologies; and Matthew Smith of United Launch Alliance.

“To be successful we have to embrace inclusion and diversity of thought. Without changes, we’ll keep getting the same results we’ve had since the 1960s,” said Little, Lockheed Martin’s Production Council chair and vice president of Production for Space Systems. “Change is needed in our business. We need students with fresh ideas, experiences and thoughts. It’s that diversity of thought that will create a better industry and future for our country.”

The event then moved a short distance to the future site of the AES facility for the actual groundbreaking. Conor Hall, community partnerships program coordinator in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office, read a proclamation declaring October 1, 2015 as “MSU Denver Day” and presented Jordan with flags flown in the University’s honor at the State Capitol last week. Hall was followed by Colorado Rep. Steve Lebsock (B.A. sociology ’98) who spoke of his pride in his alma mater. Jordan then spoke briefly before urging a group of guests and MSU Denver trustees to don construction hats and “turn some dirt.”

And with that, MSU Denver is poised to soar to new heights.

The new AES facility will house programs in aerospace sciences; civil, electrical and mechanical engineering technology; computer information systems and computer science; and industrial design. The facility will also be the home of Colorado’s only Institute for Advanced Manufacturing. Another feature of the building is a “flexible” fourth floor that will feature equipment from various advanced manufacturers, enabling MSU Denver students to learn the latest technologies while providing industry with opportunities to demonstrate the efficacy of their equipment.