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UAH takes giant leap forward to further expand Huntsville’s advanced workforce development

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) is taking a giant leap forward in its quest to further expand the advanced workforce of the greater Huntsville area.

UAH is one of the leading universities in Alabama for graduating engineers and physical scientists, but the university should enhance those numbers in the near future as a result of an announcement regarding construction of a new engineering building on the campus.

The first phase of a new engineering building project at UAH received conceptual approval from the University of Alabama Board of Trustees last week. This initial approval authorizes UAH to formally proceed with planning the construction of an 80,000-square-foot, multi-story academic and research facility that will accommodate the College of Engineering’s continued growth and greatly enhance the advanced research capabilities of UAH’s faculty, staff and students.

During the past three years, UAH has produced an average of more than 2,100 degrees every year; including nearly 1,500 bachelor’s, and more than 560 master’s and 80 Ph. Ds.. That’s a tremendous amount of brainpower produced annually for Huntsville’s advanced workforce. But perhaps more significant is that nearly half of UAH’s graduates earn degrees in science or engineering.

A UAH news release stated that expanding and enhancing UAH’s engineering facility will advance the university’s flagship program, promote collaborative learning, and foster innovation in fast-growing technical areas that UAH currently supports, such as unmanned aerial systems, big data, hypersonics and artificial intelligence.

Alabama State Senator Tom Butler (R-Madison) and State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) were recognized by the board for their leadership on securing a major appropriation to get momentum started on the new building during the 2022 regular session of the Alabama Legislature.

“As the preferred site for the U.S. Space Command and the home to Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park, Huntsville is a STEM powerhouse with a critical need for talented professionals in the science, cyber and engineering fields,” said Sen. Butler. “The continued growth of this knowledge-based economy requires a significant increase in STEM graduates. With the vast majority of UAH graduates staying in our state, expanding and enhancing the university’s engineering facility will directly fill our community’s workforce pipeline.”

UAH supplies a highly educated workforce to the state of Alabama with 72% of its alumni remaining in Alabama following their graduation. The university has long been a major contributor and has played a pivotal role in driving economic development and supporting high-tech industry, space and defense needs through a powerful synergy among UAH, Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park. With a rapidly expanding technological industry, Huntsville has one of the most technical workforces in the U.S. and one of the highest numbers of engineers per capita, according to U.S. Census data.

“Building on the remarkable momentum in Huntsville, it is critical for UAH to continue fulfilling the region’s educational, workforce and research needs,” said UAH interim president Dr. Chuck Karr. “A new engineering building will help us drive impactful research efforts and recruit and graduate exceptional students that meet the area’s growing high-tech workforce needs. I am grateful for and excited about the opportunity to provide this remarkable facility for our outstanding students, faculty, and staff.”

UAH officials are optimistic a new, state-of-the-art facility will drive enrollment growth. The best evidence can be derived from the impact of the Shelby Center for Science and Technology. Degrees awarded in science and engineering since that building opened in 2007 have grown more than 64%. Last year, UAH conferred 981 engineering and science degrees.

Phase I of the engineering building project includes plans for new construction that will replace Wernher von Braun Research Hall, a building that opened in 1964. The new facility will be located west of the existing Engineering Building, adjacent to the campus lake along John Wright Drive.

The Phase I preliminary project budget of $59.3 million would be funded by a variety of sources, including state appropriated funds, gifts and reserve funds. The Alabama Legislature voted to appropriate $18 million of state supplemental funds towards UAH’s engineering building project.

Research at UAH is a vibrant and expanding function and demonstrates the university’s valuable position in Alabama as a leading engineering and science research institution, according to Bob Lindquist, Vice President for Research and Economic Development at UAH.

UAH recently achieved the rank of “R1 – very high research activity” status among doctoral-granting universities in the current update of the Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education, and six of UAH’s research programs rank among the top 25 federally funded programs in the U.S., according to the National Science Foundation (NSF). UAH has established 17 research centers and institutes with most focused on supporting the federal agencies on Redstone Arsenal.

Subject to approval from the Board of Trustees, Phase II of the engineering building project would include plans to fully renovate the existing Engineering Building. All stages of this multi-phased project are subject to board approval.

Ray Garner is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News.

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