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Press Release

Research and education partnership will benefit universities, national security

RALEIGH, N.C. –  The University of North Carolina System has signed an educational partnership agreement with the U.S. Air Force’s innovation arm, known as AFWERX, to foster education and research opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and other areas.

The partnership is the first for AFWERX with any university in the United States. AFWERX is eager to join with UNC institutions to enhance technology innovation and develop a talent pipeline.

“Key partnerships like this create avenues for innovators, STEM experts, and future scientists and engineers to work collaboratively towards the rapid advancement of technologies that will not only benefit the military, but our industrial base as well,” said AFWERX Director Col. Elliott Leigh. “We’re grateful for this opportunity and look forward to advancing our capabilities through an expanded ecosystem.”

The three-year agreement will open doors for students, faculty and staff to engage with AFWERX, with the goal of better understanding and solving problems relevant to the nation’s security, economy and general welfare. Opportunities include student internships, faculty research fellowships, guest lectures and research projects. The partnership includes mentoring relationships for students and university access to specialized Department of Defense research equipment.

“This partnership offers our students, staff and faculty a tremendous chance to collaborate with some of the brightest minds in the Air Force,” said University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans. “We’re excited to see the technology innovations that emerge from this important agreement.”

AFWERX already has a presence in North Carolina. In 2021, AFWERX came to the Research Triangle Park at the First Flight Venture Center, with the aim of growing engagement with the defense innovation ecosystem in the state, including academia, business and government. AFWERX approached the UNC System in 2021 about building a partnership.

Besides STEM, areas of possible collaboration include management, public policy, entrepreneurship, innovation and design.

The partnership is similar to those the UNC System has signed with the XVIII Airborne Corps, Army Research Laboratory and the National Security Agency. The non-contractual agreements do not involve the exchange of funds or authority of one party over the other.

The agreement marks the UNC System’s 13th formal partnership with the defense community. The UNC System’s revised Strategic Plan, adopted last year, set a goal of reaching 20 defense community partnerships by 2027.

About The University of North Carolina System

The University of North Carolina System enrolls nearly 240,000 students at 17 institutions, including the state’s 16 public universities and the nation’s first public residential high school for academically gifted students. The UNC System is among the strongest and most diverse higher education systems in the country, with more than $1.8 billion in research expenditures and campuses that serve every region of the state. Affiliate organizations include UNC Health and PBS North Carolina, with its 12-station broadcast network.