Historically Black Schools Competing to Manage NASA InstituteA project to build a multi million dollar aerospace research center in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia could yield a major leadership and scientific role for two of Virginia’s historically Black universities.
Historically Black Hampton and Norfolk State Universities, in association with Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Va., are working together to win NASA approval to lead the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), which is to be established near the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton.
Hampton and Old Dominion would manage the NIA with partner institutions that include the University of Illinois, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, Princeton University and Cornell University, according to news reports. Norfolk State also would be part of the consortium managing the NIA.
Last year, NASA officials launched a national search for university and nonprofit partners to run the high-profile venture at NASA Langley Research Center. Universities seeking the institute would benefit by attracting world-class researchers, faculty and top graduate students. It would enable the schools to expand their course offerings and establish cutting-edge aerospace research programs. The NIA could employ as many as 250 scientists, professional researchers, graduate students and faculty.
NASA is pledging up to $25 million in annual financing for the NIA during its first five years, including $1.5 million in 2002 to get the center in operation by January 2003. As the institute grows, according to officials, it would sustain itself with research grants and major industry contracts.
Bill Thomas, director of Hampton University’s office of governmental relations, says becoming a lead institution to manage the NIA would enable the university to build its research and teaching capacities over time to the level of the nation’s leading scientific and technology research institutions.
“It’s an opportunity for Hampton to step up to the next level. It would give us the resources to break through the glass ceiling and eventually join the ranks of the country’s top 100 research universities,” Thomas says.
Though NASA hasn’t fully disclosed all the competitors in the running to manage the NIA, cross-state schools Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia are working together in an effort that has been well publicized because of the head-to-head competition between the Virginia institutions. NASA Langley officials are expected to announce the winning proposal by the end of August.
Hampton University and ODU are considered strong lead partners because each of them has a well-established relationship with NASA Langley. In 2001, Hampton secured research contracts from Langley valued at $4.56 million, the highest of any Virginia school and the third highest of any research entity in the nation. Hampton is the only Virginia institution that offers a degree program in atmospheric sciences, a critical research area to be a part of the NIA’s mission. In addition, ODU garnered the second-highest amount of Langley contracts among Virginia schools at $2.37 million and it runs a wind tunnel facility for Langley research.
Local officials in the Hampton Roads area are hoping the competing Virginia proposals don’t result with neither of them being chosen. An editorial in The Virginian Pilot recently expressed that sentiment, saying the “two pairs of schools are competing against each other, not to mention untold other bidders, because U.Va. and Virginia Tech wouldn’t join with Old Dominion and Hampton. That is shortsighted and worrisome.”
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