Feeding Industry: UCCS to Launch Aerospace Degree Program | Content reserved for subscribers

Professor Peter Gorder, chair of the Department of Mechanical Sciences and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, explains the cyclical nature of the US aerospace industry.

“In the ’60s there was a hiring boom, because we were in the space race,” Gorder said. “By the time I went to school in 1981, all these people who got hired in the ’60s had gray hair and were thinking about retirement.”

As the industry grew over the next four decades, the cycle continued. Now, says Gorder, “I’m the one with gray hair,” and many senior aerospace executives are nearing retirement. With the advent of the US Space Force, the industry is hungrier than ever, and it’s time to feed it again.

To that end, UCCS will launch its Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering program next fall semester. Approved by the university system’s board of trustees in February, the program is expected to admit 35 new students — incoming freshmen, with possibly a few transferring sophomores — with a plan, in four years, to have about 120 students preparing to enter the aerospace pipeline.

“But there’s already a buzz about the program,” Gorder said. “I suspect 120 will be a conservative estimate.”

The UCCS program is only the second such program in the state. The University of Colorado at Boulder is the only other undergraduate degree in aerospace, which Gorder says is somewhat surprising.

“In a way, it’s a little mind-boggling. Colorado has such a presence in the aerospace industry that you would think there would be more programs available. But we are delighted to be able to offer it.

The degree initiative is part of the University Partnership Program launched by Space Force last year. The University of Colorado System sealed the partnership last August with a brief ceremony on the UCCS campus, where UC President Todd Saliman and Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of operations Space Force Space Forces, signed a memorandum of understanding symbolizing the university’s commitment to strengthening American dominance in aerospace technology, research, development, and security.

“The State of Colorado and the community of Colorado Springs have long been key members and supporters of the national security space enterprise,” Thompson said at the ceremony. “It is therefore appropriate for Space Force to establish a formal partnership between the University of Colorado and Space Force.”

Aerospace engineering is a kind of hybrid between aeronautical engineering (which deals with mechanisms that operate in the atmosphere, including airplanes, helicopters, and drones) and astronautical engineering (which focuses on satellites , interplanetary vehicles, probes and other equipment that operates outside the Earth’s atmosphere). While aeronautical engineers should have some knowledge of both disciplines, most college programs emphasize one or the other.

“Our main focus will be on the astronautical side,” Gorder said. “It’s kind of a tribute to the industry here in Colorado Springs, because a lot of the local industry is focused on mining outside of our atmosphere.”

Local aerospace companies, eager to bolster the industry with the state’s best young minds, have long encouraged a degree program at UCCS, but the university lacked resources, Gorder said. Now the university system, Space Force and donors have provided the necessary financial and material support.

“This is a huge workforce development opportunity in Colorado Springs,” Gorder said. “Having the local opportunity for continuing education for aerospace employees and workforce development for new hires is huge.”

Other aerospace companies in the city and region are also working to expand the industry’s labor pool. In 2018, Lockheed Martin committed to creating 8,000 new learning and workforce development opportunities. Four years later, they are almost halfway to their goal, with 3,500. Northrop Grumman is working to bring more women and minority students into STEM careers. Raytheon Technologies’ internship program is recognized as one of the best in the country.

Gorder said the university, which plans to offer a master’s degree in aerospace engineering starting next year, is more than ready to help these companies prepare the next generation of aerospace talent.

“It’s a very exciting development,” Gorder said. “It’s something that’s been encouraged by local industry for years, and we just haven’t been able to do it. Now, with support from the University of Colorado system, donors, the Space Force, and continued support from local industry, all the pieces are in place.

Ryan H. Bowman