The FirePoint Innovations Center at Wichita State University has welcomed the first class of students into its Future Innovators Program, a new engineering internship opportunity aimed at introducing historically underrepresented students into the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) technical talent pipeline.
The program is a partnership among FirePoint, Wichita State’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), Tuskegee University, Prairie View A&M University, and the U.S. Army DEVCOM Aviation and Missile Center (AvMC), connecting students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to internship opportunities with local aerospace manufacturers in the Wichita area.
“We’re extremely pleased to be a part of this program to showcase the type of cutting-edge career opportunities the defense industry offers,” said Justin Welner, vice president of human resources for Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita. “Too often we miss out on exceptional talent because they gravitate toward the coasts and get picked up by the tech sector, unaware of the groundbreaking work being done right here in the heartland. This is a great opportunity to both bolster our talent pipeline and to introduce new perspectives into our work.”
In this year’s program, six students will spend 10 weeks working directly for organizations in the local aviation ecosystem, including Spirit and Textron Aviation, manufacturer of Cessna and Beechcraft aircraft. Throughout the summer, the Future Innovators will also meet bi-weekly with mentors at the AvMC to discuss their career goals and learn about potential opportunities within the DoD. At the conclusion of the program, each student will provide a presentation and feedback to leadership at the AvMC.
Filling a void on both sides of the equation
Future Innovators is part of FirePoint’s mission to bring together the best expertise, technologies and capabilities from industry, academia and government to enable the Army of the Future.
“A large part of our mission involves cultivating young STEM talent to support the Army’s future needs,” said Steve Cyrus, executive director of FirePoint. “Through workforce development programs like Future Innovators, we’re able to engage students in hands-on collaborative work that not only gives them valuable career-building experience but also raises awareness of Army-related job opportunities.”
At the same time, Future Innovators aims to give minority students opportunities to explore engineering careers. Currently, of the 93,000 students who earn an engineering-related bachelor’s degree each year, only 4% are black and 14% are women, despite these groups making up 14% and 50% of the U.S. population, respectively. By working to place students from HBCUs in these engineering-related internships, FirePoint aims to help close that gap, introducing greater diversity, equality and inclusion into the STEM fields.
“Having hands-on experience is so important heading into the job market, which is why I jumped at the chance to get involved with this program,” said Cayla Brooks, a mechanical engineering major at Tuskegee University. “I hadn’t even considered a career in the defense industry before now, so I’m eager to learn what kind of opportunities are available.”
Next year, FirePoint plans to expand the Future Innovators program to include more students and more participating industry partners.