Collaborations like longtime Boeing/WSU efforts help advance research and prepare a skilled workforce

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 A new era is taking shape, one that involves looking up to the sky, out into space and far into the future. And this bold new era is coming into its own right here in Washington state.

Blue Origin, the Kent-based Jeff Bezos company working on technologies planned to one day enable people to live and work in space, has launched two successful rocket missions. Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, which recently opened an office in Redmond, had successful launches and landings of its main rocket, the Falcon 9. Washington is also home to other space companies, including the asteroid-mining Planetary Resources and rocket engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne. This emerging industry is supported by dozens of suppliers, many of whom are welcoming this opportunity to diversify their historic place in the state’s vast commercial airplane supply chain.

In this atmosphere of growth and exploration, the longtime partnership between Boeing and WSU also thrives. Boeing has invested in myriad WSU endowed professorships, fellowships, scholarships, learning centers and programs. This year, as Boeing celebrates its centennial, its connection to WSU continues to help education and industry take flight.

Investments in the future

In Washington, there are about 1425 aerospace and related companies, generating $85.7 billion in economic activity.

Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, is the leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems. Boeing’s Washington roots run deep, and of the company’s nearly 160,000 (158,750) workers worldwide, almost half (77,114) of which are based in Washington.

Keeping the aerospace industry on the cutting edge requires research and a skilled workforce. WSU produces the greatest number of new degreed mechanical engineers in the state each year, and the second-largest number in all engineering fields. This capacity will become vitally important in the coming years as an anticipated wave of retirements hits Boeing and the entire aerospace supply chain.

The first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner began final assembly May 30, 2013 in Everett, Wash.
The first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner began final assembly May 30, 2013 in Everett, Wash.

WSU’s research in advanced materials, engineering and smart systems helps solve technological challenges and gives students valuable hands-on industry experience. Government programs like the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation help initiate mutually beneficial relationships between education and industry, which ultimately advance economic development in the state.

Among the examples of JCATI-WSU partnerships during the past few years:

  • WSU researchers Amit Bandyopadhyay, Susmita Bose and their students worked with Aerojet Rocketdyne to explore the possibility of 3-D printing mixed-material parts for space satellites.
  • WSU researcher Jake Leachman and his graduate students worked with Insitu Inc. to design an insulation-free cryogenic hydrogen fuel tank for the unmanned aerial vehicle, ScanEagle.
  • Chen-Ching Liu leads a WSU team designing a fuel cell-based battery-extender power unit for the aviation industry.

One example of Boeing’s investments in WSU and in the future workforce is e-Connections, a $2,000 scholarship that provides WSU freshmen and sophomores (in any major) with an introduction to entrepreneurship programming and a community to support their academic pursuits.

Another is the Boeing Scholars Program. Each year, twelve junior-level WSU students (four engineering, four business, two science and two communication) are selected as Boeing Scholars. In their senior year, these students participate in a multidisciplinary design course in which they address Boeing-sponsored projects with both engineering and business components. The project culminates in a formal presentation to Boeing management and entry in the Business Plan Competition. This fall, the program will expand and offered to students at WSU’s growing Everett campus.

The Boeing Mentorship Program pairs a Boeing mentor with students from WSU engineering programs in Vancouver, Bremerton and Everett. The program started in 2009. In five years, close to 100 students have participated.

It’s business, and it’s personal

Boeing is a company where WSU graduates have long swelled the research, manufacturing, scientific and executive ranks.

One of those alumni, Scott Carson (1972, business administration), grew up on Mercer Island, the son of a Boeing test pilot.

“I always knew I wanted to work in aviation,” he says. “For those of us growing up in Seattle, that meant Boeing.”

The bond between Boeing and WSU hits particularly close to home for Carson. To Carson’s way of thinking, WSU changed his life. It not only launched his own career, but four of his five children also graduated from WSU.

Carson retired in 2009 after ascending the ranks to president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. His Boeing office always included a shrine full of WSU memorabilia.

He now serves as WSU regent. He and his wife, Linda, and their family have been donors, volunteers and advocates for the university, including serving as chair of the $1 billion fund-raising Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas. WSU’s business college recently was renamed the Carson College of Business in recognition of the Carson family’s leadership and support of the university.

The university’s collaborative relationship with Boeing stretches back a century and adds new meaning to the phrase “friends in high places.”

In May, the WSU Board of Regents officially cemented that bond by passing a resolution acknowledging and appreciating the many contributions Boeing has made to WSU over its century of aerospace leadership.

“Boeing has invested in WSU because the company is proud to support globally competitive learning through institutions like WSU,” says Craig Bomben, The Boeing Company’s Vice President-Flight Test and the company’s Executive Focal to WSU.

Learn more about how Washington State University researchers untangle complex problems to enrich quality of life for us all.