UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND, Grand Force Air Force Base fly in formation

Partnership strengthens connections in areas of research, technology, education and innovation

With the Thunderbirds in the background, U.S. Air Force Col. Timothy Curry, 319th Reconnaissance Wing commander, and Andrew Armacost, University of North Dakota president, sign a partnership agreement between the Grand Forks Air Force Base and UND on June 18. The signing took place during the Northern Thunder Air and Space Expo at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Photo by Senior Airman Ashley Richards/U.S. Air Force.

The University of North Dakota has entered into a partnership with the 319th Reconnaissance Wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base to cooperate on mutually beneficial opportunities in education, innovation and research.

UND President Andrew Armacost and Col. Timothy Curry, commander of the 319th Reconnaissance Wing, signed the Education Partnership Agreement at a ceremony on Saturday, June 18, at GFAFB. The event was attended by UND administrators and Air Force officers, including Col. James Gherdovich, commander of the 319th Mission Support Group.

The day was characterized by high winds and clouds of dust, which caused a scheduled performance of the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force’s premier flight team, to be canceled. But although the Thunderbirds were grounded for flight safety reasons, the signing of the partnership agreement gives new wings to the relationship between UND and GFAFB.

“The signing of today’s Education Partnership Agreement provides for a very close connection between UND and Grand Forks Air Force Base in areas of research, technology development, education, and innovation,” said Armacost.

“We have had many occasions in the last two years to work closely with the professionals at the base, and this agreement allows that relationship to deepen as UND supports key interests in national security. Congratulations and thanks to Col. Curry and Col. Gherdovich for making this happen.”

The agreement will allow faculty, students and staff across academic departments at UND to access the North Spark Defense Laboratory, located at GFAFB. Designated as a federal research laboratory, North Spark is authorized to partner with educational institutions to encourage the study of science, mathematics, and engineering at all levels of education. The laboratory is part of broader Air Force efforts to “spark” innovation throughout the military branch.

Under the agreement, equipment from North Spark may be transferred to UND, to be used in research interests that are compatible with the goals of the lab. The two entities will work together on creating programming, and students will be able to receive academic credit for their efforts.

Amy Whitney, director of UND’s Center for Innovation, said work between UND and North Spark has been going on for about 18 months. Signing the agreement, she said, formalizes the collaborative relationship between UND and GFAFB, by allowing for the continuity of research efforts through leadership changes at the base.

“The Education Partnership Agreement allows both of our entities to increase efficiencies when sharing resources, and formally documents our partnership,” Whitney said. “Most importantly, it creates a long-lasting agreement that is in place through staffing transitions, which is important at the GFAFB because they have one-to-two-year service periods.”

Whitney said the Center for Innovation has begun to introduce start-up companies to the North Spark lab. The companies may be able to partner with the lab on issues related to national security.

William Semke, associate dean for academic affairs at UND’s College of Engineering & Mines, said energy conservation and investigating the use of alternative sources of energy at GFAFB are but two possibilities for his college. As the partnership agreement matures, more opportunities will present themselves at colleges across the campus, he said.

Semke said he has worked closely with Col. Gherdovich, who has been a strong proponent of interaction with UND, and that the timing was right to sign the partnership agreement.

“We had this momentum built up, along with the interest of President Armacost to work closely with the base and the Air Force in general, as well as the Space Force and the Department of Defense,” he said. “It was just the right time for it.”