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Boeing, Northrop Grumman team with Virginia Tech to create project-based learning curriculum – Washington Business Journal – The Business Journals

In partnership with such big-name companies as The Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., Virginia Tech is piloting a new project-based curriculum for local engineering students ahead of the opening of its $1 billion Potomac Yard campus.
Four companies in the tech, aerospace and defense fields are presenting small groups of master’s of engineering students with real-world problems to tackle and solve with the help of faculty members now based at the university’s Northern Virginia center in Falls Church.
Once the full program launches in 2024 with the opening of the first academic building on the Alexandria campus, more students will be assigned projects by company partners, ranging from small businesses to major corporations, Lance Collins, vice president and executive director of Virginia Tech’s Potomac Yard campus, said in an interview.
For students, the program provides an environment to gain professional acumen to go along with technical training, he said. The companies, meanwhile, see their involvement as a way to build a skilled, ready-made workforce.
One of the tracts within the project-based learning curriculum will be entrepreneurship. For example, students, alongside corporate leaders, may identify a product not yet available in the marketplace and build a case for why there is a need for it. They will go on to research its production costs and determine a selling price, oversee its development and create the product using engineering department resources and technology. At the end of the program, student teams present their results to the corporate sponsors who assigned the projects, in written and oral form, Collins said.
The hope, said Collins, is that some of those research projects could spawn startups.
Dave Calhoun, president and CEO of Boeing and member of the graduate campus’ advisory board, said during Virginia Tech’s board of visitors meeting earlier in November that the campus’ curriculum, including this specific project-based learning program, won’t just be focused on building a pipeline of talent for big companies.
“I think the sky’s the limit around here. We don’t want this to just be a big company Innovation Campus,” Calhoun said during the meeting, per a Virginia Tech statement. “The element that’s entrepreneurial is maybe the most important part of the economic development of that region. The big guys are already there, but I think the entrepreneurial activity is going to be the real difference for Virginia.”
In addition to Arlington-based Boeing (NYSE: BA) and Falls Church-based Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC), the university is also partnering Deloitte, which has a major presence in Arlington, and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace, a subsidiary of Arlington’s Raytheon Technologies (NYSE: RTX), Collins said.
“Lots of companies have expressed interest,” Collins said. “But it’s actually beyond our capacity at this point, so we’re working with just a handful of them.”
Currently, the Blacksburg-based university has 249 students at its graduate campus for computer science and computer engineering and the goal is to have least 750 master’s and doctoral students in computer science and computer engineering enrolled locally by 2028. Collins also said that he wants the Potomac Yard campus to be the most diverse graduate tech campus in the country. As it stands, nearly 29% of the students are women and 22% are “underrepresented minorities,” Virginia Tech said. 
Collins said searches are underway to hire four more faculty members and that he hopes to fill the roles by the spring. The graduate campus now has 14 instructors, most of whom were already Virginia Tech faculty, and eventually will have a total of 50.
Virginia Tech announced plans for the innovation campus on the same day in 2018 that Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) announced its selection of Arlington for its second headquarters. The university’s aim is to develop more tech talent to feed the region’s growing tech ecosystem.
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