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General Dynamics and New Mexico State University develop good relationship

In 2000, General Dynamics' Systems Support Services division decided it wanted to do more to encourage the interest in space-related professions of students at New Mexico State University. The result has been a unique public-private partnership that in the long run may help New Mexico State grow as an institution and General Dynamics find new, well-prepared employees.



New Mexico State University electrical and computer engineering technology major Albert Benavidez monitors a bank of computers used to display satellite tracking data in General Dynamics' SpacePlex facility in the university's Arrowhead Research Park. B..

Since the spring semester of 2001, General Dynamics Systems Support Services division has sponsored a course on space mission analysis and one on systems engineering at New Mexico State's Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. It funds the instructors' salaries, materials and administrative needs and pays the travel expenses for participants in a speakers program that aims to bring at least three authorities on space and systems engineering to the campus each semester.

General Dynamics Systems Support Services division has maintained offices in the university's Arrowhead Research Park since 1997. Ken Osborn, director of advanced programs for the division, said General Dynamics has found the site a good place from which to expand its commercial contracts initiatives. In addition, the company has employed 38 New Mexico State students during the last five years and hopes to hire some of those students as they graduate, he added.

"New Mexico State has an excellent engineering department, but few space courses. We wanted to encourage it to get back into space and had discussed a couple of ways to do that. Then David Messner, our vice president of Systems Support Services, found out that Gary Geyer and Chuck Boehmer were living in Las Cruces and suggested offering the classes," Osborn said.

Geyer is a former Air Force colonel who, during a 33-year career, oversaw major space programs for Lockheed-Martin and the National Reconnaissance Office. In 2000 he was recognized as one of the top pioneers of the National Reconnaissance Office. Boehmer is a former Navy captain with 20 years in the field of space, including 10 years at the National Reconnaissance Office and eight at Lockheed-Martin managing national space programs.

"We thought, gee, who better than these two men to teach courses on space and systems?" Osborn said.

Geyer and Boehmer's courses alternate each semester. Space mission analysis was first offered in spring 2001, with systems engineering following that fall. This spring the two are teaching the course on space mission analysis again. Geyer said it is basically a broad survey of its subject.

"We say our space mission analysis course is three inches deep and a mile wide," Geyer said. "While students probably should have a technical or scientific background to understand the theory involved, it's pretty broad in scope. We cover everything from mission conception to spacecraft design, launch, operation and orbital performance."

In the systems engineering course, Boehmer and Geyer draw on their experience administering space projects to teach principles that can be applied to any complex project, Boehmer said.

"We use space examples to illustrate the discipline and management processes required to build a system to satisfy its intended requirements," he said.

The speakers program, which aims to bring at least three authorities on space and systems engineering a semester to New Mexico State's campus, has so far brought former astronaut Frank Borman; David Thompson, CEO of Spectrum Astro Corp., a well-known manufacturer of small satellites; Dave Dawson, a retired vice president and program manager for Lockheed-Martin; and Lance Krieger, director of business operations for Lockheed-Martin's Sunnyvale, Calif., division.

The quality of the courses and student response to them has caused the Klipsch School to consider creating a new concentration in space systems engineering in its electrical engineering major, said Steven Castillo, the school's head.

"We think the courses have a two-fold advantage. They give our students exposure to Gary and Chuck, who have a wealth of experience. At the same time, they help us turn out graduates who are better prepared to work in the space industry," Castillo said.

Electrical and computer engineering technology major Albert Benevidez, who has had student employment at General Dynamics' control center since 1998, said the job has provided an introduction to the satellite industry. As a General Dynamics employee, he performs satellite monitoring and control, real time support and downlinking of satellite information for the Internet, cell phone and television industries, he said.

"Space is something I've always been interested in. I'm fascinated by satellite capabilities and where we're going with them in the future," he added.

In March 2001 the General Dynamics group moved from an office in New Mexico State's Genesis Center into its own new SpacePlex building in the Arrowhead Research Park. The new building has 11,000 square feet and can provide satellite command and control, network operations and ground-station support for up to 100 satellites. In addition to the students it employs, General Dynamics Systems Support Services division employs 16 full-time staff at the SpacePlex.

"Business has grown," Osborn said. "If it weren't going down the right path, we wouldn't have moved into this beautiful facility."

Miley Gonzalez, New Mexico State's vice provost for research, said the university's goal in establishing the research park was to foster just the kind of relationships it has developed with General Dynamics -- relationships that help develop the region's economy while enriching educational programs on campus.

"Having served on the Government, Industry, University Research Roundtable at the National Academy of Science, I know the value of developing and nurturing programs that increase the private/public partnership. It creates a win-win relationship for all entities involved and the real beneficiaries are the current students and future graduates that enter the workforce better prepared for an ever changing global environment," he said.

Photo is available at http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/general_dynamics.jpg.
CUTLINE: New Mexico State University electrical and computer engineering technology major Albert Benavidez monitors a bank of computers used to display satellite tracking data in General Dynamics' SpacePlex facility in the university's Arrowhead Research Park. Benavidez is one of 38 New Mexico State students employed by the company over the last five years. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Jack King
April 30, 2002