Metro's New Aerospace and Engineering Building Melds Theory and Practice

The new Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building at Metropolitan State University opened Thursday, June 22.
The new Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building at Metropolitan State University opened Thursday, June 22. c/o David Fine
Metropolitan State University has been on a building binge. Metro has recently added a Student Academic Success Center, a Marriott Springhill Suites location with an academic hospitality school, and a massive sports complex for both collegiate teams and student exercise on the Auraria campus.

On Thursday, June 22, Metro celebrated the completion and opening of its latest project, the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building (AES). The building will serve as home to a new bachelor's program in Advanced Manufacturing Sciences (AMS); an interdisciplinary course of study that will integrate work from existing colleges in the university in aerospace science, industrial design, civil/mechanical/electrical engineering and computer science.

"This is the first pure BA in Advanced Manufacturing Sciences in the country," says outgoing Metro president Stephen M. Jordan, who notes that many other universities only offer engineering degrees with a focus on AMS. Rather than concentrating on aerospace design, as flagship engineering programs like the one at the University of Colorado Boulder does, the AMS program intends to fill a niche in aerospace manufacturing.

"While a school like Boulder works to design vehicles and instrumentation, we want to prepare manufacturing engineers to build those designs," explains Jordan. "We wanted to know how to create a workforce in aerospace that can meet advanced manufacturing needs with today's new materials." But in the future, he adds, "Our hope is that when partners sign a design contract to Boulder, they will work with Metro on integrating our manufacturing program."

The AMS program is intended to help strengthen companies in Colorado that would otherwise look for workers outside of the state, he says. But Jordan also hopes the program will help diversify the growing STEM job market in Colorado. Metro, which made big news five years ago when it became one of the first universities in the country to offer reduced tuition for undocumented students, is an extremely diverse place; 60 percent of the student body is low-income, of color, or first-generation. In fact, the university has experienced a 95 percent increase in enrollment of students of color since 2006, and 28 percent of those students are currently majoring in STEM disciplines.

Equipment in the new AES building at Metro. - FLICKR / MSU DENVER
Equipment in the new AES building at Metro.
Flickr / MSU Denver
"Number one, this program will provide an opportunity for students to begin their careers with $60,000 as a starting salary and a chance for them to be employed in Colorado," says Jordan. "Number two, there is a reputation factor for graduates from this program."

That reputation will come as a result of the opportunity students will have to work with partnering engineers and engineering companies in the AES building. The building incorporates public/private partnerships, and the entire top floor is dedicated to private-sector companies that students can work with to receive hands-on learning skills and experiences.

One company poised to operate at Metro is York Space Systems, which will be moving its headquarters into the AES building and is preparing to build 180 satellites on a contract for the Army; students will be able to help with manufacturing, assembly and satellite communications. Additionally, Hartwig Inc. has agreed to provide around $2 million worth of computer-operated machine tools that will be turned over and updated at no cost three times during the ten-year agreement. "Students will be able to work with the latest cutting-edge technology," notes Jordan.

click to enlarge A student-made 50 percent replica of Lockheed Martin's Orion Spacecraft hangs in the AES building. - GABE FINE
A student-made 50 percent replica of Lockheed Martin's Orion Spacecraft hangs in the AES building.
Gabe Fine
At the opening celebration, Jordan also announced a landmark donation of $1 million from longtime Metro partner Lockheed Martin. "This gift will fund an additive manufacturing lab centered around a state-of-the-art 3-D printing machine called the Statasys Fortus 900MC," he noted, then joked, "You know, like R2D2 –– but better." The donation will also establish an endowed director's position for the AMS program.

Although the AMS curriculum will officially begin this fall, students have already been able to take some courses and work with local companies. Now hanging in the AES building is a -3D print of a 50 percent replica of the Lockheed Martin Orion Spacecraft. Students contributed nozzle components to a 100 percent scale model of the spacecraft that is currently on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Jordan expects students to continue accumulating such achievements with the new facilities and opportunities available. "Theory and practice come together in this building," he concludes.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gabe Fine is a fifth-generation Colorado native and a student at Colorado College. He’s written about everything from the environment to housing justice to the postal service as an editorial intern for Westword.
Contact: Gabe Fine