WT Joins Air Force Research Laboratory Minority Leaders Research Collaboration Program 

Chip Chandler

Photo provided by WT Communication and Marketing

Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124, [email protected]  


CANYON, Texas — West Texas A&M University has joined a national collaborative research partnership to increase opportunities in the Air Force for minority science, technology, engineering and mathematics students and graduates. 

The Air Force Research Laboratory Minority Leaders – Research Collaboration Program enables collaborative research partnerships between AFRL and academia that engage a diverse pool of scientists and engineers in addressing foundational research challenges in support of the nation’s air, space and cyberspace technology needs. 

“WT is eager to support and build this research partnership with AFRL while continuing to expand research opportunities for our students,” said Dr. Angela Spaulding, vice president of research and compliance and dean of the WT Graduate School.

Diverse perspectives from across the nation help conquer Air Force research and development challenges. Establishing AFRL-led cutting edge research projects at historically black colleges and universities, minority serving institutions and other partnering foundations encourages growth competencies at these universities for supporting aerospace technologies.

WT qualified as a Hispanic Serving Institution in 2016.

“There are many benefits to this program,” said Asheley Blackford, AFRL ML-RCP program manager. “It creates a new source of quality university research with a highly trained pool of excellent student and engineering graduates. It also increases diversity of the workforce along with allowing access to innovative thoughts from culturally and scientifically diverse sources.”

AFRL has previously funded individual graduate student research projects. This effort is specifically designed to create a national infrastructure that will build a lasting pipeline that brings STEM students from MSIs to AFRL and strengthens research connections between AFRL and MSIs. Students work with AFRL research mentors on projects throughout the academic school year and work side-by-side with their mentors at AFRL under summer internship programs.  Students have access to specialized research equipment and laboratory space to continue on-going research in concert with that mentor.

Dr. Vinu Unnikrishnan, assistant professor of civil engineering in WT’s College of Engineering, is the University’s inaugural recipient of the ML-RCP cooperative agreement award for a period of two years. During this period Unnikrishnan will work closely with his collaborators at AFRL on composite materials and their applications of relevance to AFRL.  

“This ML-RCP collaboration provides a unique opportunity for our students to be able to interact with and work closely on cutting-edge research, which are in the forefront of technology,” Unnikrishnan said. 

Serving the diverse needs of the region and partnership with national research institutions are key drivers in WT’s work as a Regional Research University, as laid out in the University’s long-term plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World. That plan is being fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. 


About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Air Force and Space Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit afresearchlab.com. 


About West Texas A&M University 

WT is located in Canyon, Texas, on a 342-acre residential campus. Established in 1910, the University has been part of The Texas A&M University System since 1990. WT, a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2016, boasts an enrollment of about 10,000 and offers 60 undergraduate degree programs, 40 master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. The University is also home to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state and the home of one of the Southwest’s finest art collections. The Buffaloes are a member of the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference and offers 14 men’s and women’s athletics programs. 


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