Obama to Visit Site of U.Va. Partnership with Rolls-Royce, Other Schools

March 07, 2012

March 7, 2012 — University of Virginia representatives will be at the Rolls-Royce facility in Prince George County on Friday as President Barack Obama visits the site of a successful partnership among the company, the University and other institutions of higher education.

Obama is scheduled to appear at the Rolls-Royce plant at the Crosspointe Centre aerospace manufacturing campus to discuss the economy. In his State of the Union address, the president tied manufacturing to economic revival.

"Think about the America within our reach: a country that leads the world in educating its people; an America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs," he said.

In 2007, Rolls-Royce invited U.Va., Virginia Tech, Virginia State University and the Virginia Community College System into a partnership with the aim of creating major research centers; supporting faculty, students, workforce development initiatives and research; and providing manufacturing training.

The result has been a model for private-public cooperation and underscores the powerful role higher education plays in innovation and economic growth, according to U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan.

"While it advances research, this partnership is also a great educational opportunity for our students, and gives us an opportunity to cooperate with other higher education institutions in the state," Sullivan said.

The 1,000-acre Crosspointe campus will also house the new Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, or CCAM, which is scheduled to open in September. The 60,000-square-foot facility, on property donated by Rolls-Royce to the University of Virginia Foundation, will serve as a sort of manufacturing laboratory where faculty and students from U.Va. and its partner schools will work to develop ideas and quickly move them to the marketplace. Rolls-Royce and seven other companies are participating.

"It's industry-driven and university-executed," said Barry Johnson, senior associate dean in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. "The companies are helping us define the problems that need to be solved and then the expertise of the universities is applied to solve those problems."

Initial plans call for a total of 70 students, both graduate and undergraduate, from U.Va., Virginia Tech and Virginia State, to work at CCAM alongside employees from each of the partner companies and full-time CCAM staff, Johnson said. In addition to company-directed research, the facility will specialize in general manufacturing research and on collaborative government-funded research. CCAM will also give the students practical training and networking opportunities, he said.

"The real goal is to expedite getting new ideas into commercial practice," he said. "The benefits of that are job creation, growth of existing companies and the creation of new companies, all with an advanced manufacturing focus, which I think is important to the country."

The University has already received more than $8 million in external research funding for projects associated with the Rolls-Royce partnership. Thomas C. Skalak, U.Va.'s vice president for research, said CCAM and the University's larger partnership with Rolls-Royce and other corporate partnerships are critical to the nation's "innovation ecosystem."

"CCAM is essential to produce the most advanced materials and manufactured components today, while also serving as a center for creative innovation that will create the technological world of tomorrow," Skalak said. "It draws upon the deep intellectual and engineering capabilities of U.Va., one of the nation's top public research universities, and links them with complementary statewide partners to educate the next generation of Einsteins and Edisons. The lasting impact will mark this historic investment partnership as a cornerstone of America’s future security."

The Rolls-Royce collaboration has already benefited both the Engineering School and the McIntire School of Commerce, said the deans of those schools.

"The partnership has fostered collaborations, provided critically needed support for research, faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and created an enhanced process for our students and faculty to move discovery from concept and design to production," said James Aylor, dean of the Engineering School.

The partnership also helped facilitate a new prototype laboratory in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, funded by a generous state grant, where students have the chance to design and build prototypes of the types of projects undertaken at Crosspointe, Johnson said.

McIntire faculty members were involved in the planning and development of Crosspointe and CCAM, and Dean Carl Zeithaml said the school looks forward to expanding educational and research collaborations in Virginia and throughout the world.

"Rolls-Royce and the McIntire School of Commerce have a model partnership built on our shared commitment to top quality business education, innovation, research and economic development," he said. "Each year, Rolls-Royce recruits several of our best graduates, and the school benefits immensely from the company's sponsorship of our core curriculum, the engagement of their executives in our classrooms and research centers, and Rolls-Royce's financial support for several distinguished professorships."

At full capacity, the first Rolls-Royce facility at Crosspointe, completed in 2011, will employ about 140 people and manufacture about 2,000 aircraft parts a year. Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell announced Tuesday that Rolls-Royce is considering a new advanced manufacturing facility at Crosspointe.

The University's partnership with Rolls-Royce, first championed in part by Leonard W. Sandridge, former executive vice president and chief operating officer, has also resulted in new hiring at U.Va. The Engineering School will hire eight faculty over five years in areas related to the work done at Crosspointe – four have already been hired – as well as create three endowed professorships, Johnson said.

As part of the partnership, Harsha Chelliah, U.Va. professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Srinath Ekkad, a mechanical engineering professor at Virginia Tech, are managing the Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems, which is dedicated to exploring breakthrough concepts for creating more efficient and effective propulsion systems. In three years, the center has grown to more than $2 million in research funding from Rolls-Royce and state and federal grants.

– by Rob Seal