When Ray Brousseau, vice president and deputy general manager of electronic systems for BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems sector—the largest manufacturing employer in New Hampshire—is looking for a new employee with a particular skill set he needs, the first call he makes is to UMass Lowell Engineering Dean Joe Hartman.
“He knows the sort of people we need here; he understands just what I’m looking for," says Brousseau, a 1986 ULowell electrical engineering graduate who’s been with the company 24 years. “That’s the best sort of partner to have.”
The partnership between UMass Lowell and BAE Systems runs deep. Whether it’s a question of employment opportunities, resource donations or joint-project collaborations, the interests of the university and the Nashua-based company are well-aligned.
The mission of BAE’s Electronic Systems sector—which produces commercial and defense electronics for flight and engine control, surveillance, electronic warfare and a host of other equally critical tasks—lines up well with the university’s prowess in STEM education.
“UMass Lowell produces great engineers,” says Brousseau, a member of the university’s Industrial Engineering Advisory Board. “And not only that—they’re great engineers who love the area and want to live their lives here.”
The company has been around since 1951, when a crew of Raytheon engineers left the Massachusetts giant to found a small company in an abandoned Nashua textile mill. Originally called Sanders Associates (after one of the founding group), the new firm’s focus was on protecting military aircraft from detection by radar. By the mid-1970s, the mission had broadened: The company became a leader in defending U.S. jets from an enemy’s heat-seeking missiles, and in defeating any countermeasures that might detect its sensors. All this came under the general heading of military electronics, still a young industry at the time—though by the end of the century, most of the country’s military aircraft would be equipped with its defenses.
“UMass Lowell produces great engineers, and not only that—they’re great engineers who love the area and want to live their lives here.”
In 2000, Sanders was acquired by the British firm BAE Systems, among the largest military contractors in the world, then merged with a second defense-focused company to form the Electronic Systems of today.
At the core of the UML-BAE partnership is employment. The company, which currently has 5,400 employees in southern New Hampshire, hired roughly 1,000 new workers last year alone and recently announced plans for 400 additional jobs. Many of these are graduates of UMass Lowell.
For some of them, says Brousseau, the relationship begins with a summer internship: “We look for the students with the latest skills, then we put them right to work—they’re not just running out for coffee, believe me. By the end of the summer, they’ve received some valuable experience, as well as exposure to what the company is about. And for us, it makes for some excellent branding. Lots of those students end up leaving here with a job offer in hand. So it works out well all around.”
For some UML grads, there is another benefit. BAE Systems’ Warrior Integration Program, a three-year rotational system designed to integrate post-9/11, combat-injured veterans into the company’s workforce, seems almost tailor-made for the university, whose population of veterans is the highest in the state and among the highest in New England.
A second area of partnership revolves around various research and event collaborations. One of these, last year’s “Space Conference,” celebrating the 60th anniversary of the dawn of the Space Age and designed around the theme of “Space Exploration in the Upcoming Decade,” was directed by UML physics Prof. Supriya Chakrabati, who heads the university’s Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology. Over several days in April, it brought to campus a nationwide team of astronauts, scientists, researchers, students and industry leaders who shared their work on space exploration and discussed its new frontiers.
“We have a strong and growing partnership with BAE Systems in space science and engineering,” says Chakrabati. “One clear reflection of that was the company’s generous support for that symposium, which attracted many of the country’s leading thinkers and provided a blueprint for our approach to ‘New Space.’”
Another joint project, also under the direction of Chakrabati, awarded a team of more than 50 UML students a $200,000 NASA grant to design and build a solar-powered satellite for a yearlong mission orbiting the earth.
“That project really demonstrates the students’ energy, and their commitment to designing something to go into space,” says William Watson ’84,’88, chief scientist at BAE Systems’ ES sector and a member of UML’s Electrical Engineering Advisory Board, who led the company’s effort to launch the program. “And it definitely shows off what they’re known for:an ability to get things done.”
There have been other partnerships. BAE Systems was the chief sponsor of this year’s Women’s Leadership Conference, hosted by UMass Lowell at the Inn & Conference Center. And on BAE’s Nashua campus, a series of four three-credit courses taught by UML faculty—the university’s Graduate Certificate Program in Microwave Engineering—offers company employees advanced training in radio-frequency and microwave development, as well as credit toward a graduate degree.
Finally, the company is also a longtime collaborator with UMass Lowell students in their senior-year capstone design projects, often to the benefit of both parties.
“It’s not uncommon for us to have a problem we need help solving,” says Brousseau. “A student will come in with a fresh perspective, and really add something to the discussion. We’re talking about well-prepared, high-caliber people—the sort who go on to be outstanding engineers.”