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SITE, Lockheed Martin Strengthen Partnership

By Diane Britton

The opening of the first building on the Prince William Campus not only establishes George Mason's presence in Manassas, it also holds the promise of promoting closer relationships between the university and Northern Virginia's high-tech firms. The anchor program, the Institute for Biosciences, Bioinformatics, and Biotechnology, has forged a partnership with the American Type Culture Collection, a biotechnology research company, in which the two entities will share faculty, facilities, and resources. And in the fall, the campus started offering engineering, computer science, and statistics courses at the request of defense contractor Lockheed Martin of Manassas.

The courses, taught by faculty from the School of Information Technology and Engineering (SITE), were selected by Lockheed Martin, but are open to anyone. "Lockheed Martin asked us to teach courses that would give their employees the opportunity to earn at least certificates, and possibly master's degrees, right in Prince William," says Carl Harris, associate dean of graduate studies and research at SITE. "These are the same courses and certificates that we offer at the Fairfax Campus.

"What makes this activity very exciting to me personally is that it is the most major effort in hard-core engineering that we [at SITE] have outside the Fairfax Campus," he continues. "Essentially, Lockheed Martin is guaranteeing us a flow of students for courses that it determines are important to its employees.

Ed Lewis, site education manager at Lockheed Martin, is heartened that "businesses and universities are realizing we have to form partnerships. "Workers must continually renew their skills and refresh themselves academically," he says. "We're pleased that we can now look to George Mason University to help fill our needs."

George Nossaman, Lockheed Martin's director of technical operations, and a student in one of the classes, is equally enthusiastic. "We're pleasantly surprised at the interest of our employees in technological education," he says. "There's obviously a hunger for higher education. This shows us that all management needs to do is provide employees with the opportunity to upgrade their knowledge and skills, and they'll follow through.

"This is a really positive partnership for all concerned," he adds. "We get the skills we need; the employees have the opportunity to improve their skills; and the university extends its influence and gains new students."

Students have the option to take a few courses, enroll in one of two certificate programs--the Communications and Networking certificate or the Systems Engineering for Computer, Information, and Software-Intensive Systems certificate--or enter the master's program in electrical engineering. A Signal Processing certificate also is being developed.

The partnership with Lockheed Martin isn't new. "Lockheed Martin has hired a lot of our engineering graduates; in fact, we can't give them enough graduates," Harris says. "They would take double the number of engineering majors if we could provide them." But bringing the courses to Lockheed Martin's neck of the woods boosts the relationship by assuring the company that Mason is a contributor to its "technical vitality program," as Nossaman puts it.

"We want to show that we are a regional university that is working hand in glove with the large high-tech companies that are the critical fabric of the Northern Virginia economy," Harris says. "With Lockheed Martin, we're working with a company that I think will have a permanent presence in Prince William County."

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