URI engineering partnership with Raytheon advances students, employees, research

Posted on
Internships, tours, exchanges help both institutions grow and compete

KINGSTON, R.I. — January 4, 2006 — A long-time partnership between the University of Rhode Island’s College of Engineering and Raytheon Co. in Portsmouth has blossomed in recent years and is helping both institutions succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace for students and employees.

“Our partnership with URI is an important part of our effort to promote math and science education, “said Mark Ferguson, Raytheon’s manager of strategic development.

“It’s getting more and more difficult for us to compete with China and other countries that are graduating many more engineers than we are in the U.S.”

“Our relationship with Raytheon is something we showcase to prospective students and faculty members as an exciting and unique opportunity where they can gain hands-on experience and learn real-world applications for their research,” said Bahram Nassersharif, dean of the College of Engineering.

The centerpiece of the partnership is an internship program that has allowed students to link classroom theory with practical engineering applications. Eight URI students interned at the Raytheon Integrated Defense System Maritime Mission Center in Portsmouth last summer, the most of any university, and each was given a special engineering project to work on in collaboration with a Raytheon mentor. Raytheon has already hired one of the interns full-time, four part-time and offered jobs to two others when they graduate in May.

One unique aspect of these internships is their focus on the importance of communication. “We want the students to have technical success during the internship, but we also want them to meet with social success and to interact and share with their peers,” Ferguson said. “The internships are much more than just about cranking out technical solutions.”

Raytheon’s emphasis on the importance of communication has even inspired the company to offer to help URI establish a chapter of Toastmasters, the national public speaking organization, to help students further develop their communication skills.

The partners are working on creating an “exchange” program between URI faculty and Raytheon engineers. Faculty will be invited to present lunchtime seminars on their research to Raytheon staff, and they may even have the opportunity to spend as long as six months working on applied research projects at Raytheon. In exchange, Raytheon engineers are invited to serve as guest lecturers in engineering classes, and some may serve as adjunct faculty members and teach entire URI courses.

“These exchanges are a cross pollination that we both can learn from,” Ferguson said.

Raytheon also regularly opens its laboratories for tours for URI students and faculty. Last summer, ocean engineering faculty toured Raytheon’s underwater acoustics lab, while in October, 29 students and faculty visited Raytheon’s Systems Engineering Integration facilities.

“Tours like these are mutually beneficial in many ways,” said Jyh-Hone Wang, associate professor and chair of the URI Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. “It encourages information exchange in specific research and technology areas; it helps identify intern opportunities for URI students; and it provides an opportunity to exchange expertise between URI faculty and Raytheon engineers. Feedback from everyone involved has been very positive.”

Through the partnership, Raytheon employees seeking to further their educations can do so without even leaving their offices. URI offers an on-site MBA program to interested Raytheon employees, and six earned the degree in 2005. In addition, other on-site short courses are regularly offered, like the one-week course on the computer networking application CORBA, which was offered to Raytheon’s software engineering group last fall and taught by URI Computer Science Professor Victor Fay-Wolfe. Other short courses are also offered as necessary.

“This partnership was born out of our mutual goal of promoting math and science education,” concluded Ferguson. “It’s important for our employees, and it’s important for URI students so they’re ready to come into our workforce. The partnership has allowed both of us to tap into each other’s resources for mutual benefit.”

Pictured above:

URI engineering students and faculty gather with Raytheon staff members following a tour of Raytheon’s System Engineering Integration facilities in October.