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News   Reform

Defense Official Says Diversity Strengthens DOD's Research and Engineering Effort

Feb. 23, 2022 | BY Dave Vergun , DOD News

The global competition for technological advantage has never been more fierce, said the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.

A young man holds a device while standing in a dark room.
Mixed Reality Lab
Joshua Li, a software engineer at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, shows off some of the commercially available technology being used in the Navy’s Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality Lab in San Diego, Sept. 15, 2015.
Photo By: John Williams
VIRIN: 150915-N-PO203-015

Heidi Shyu said yesterday that confronting the security challenges will require the department to employ the next generation of highly talented scientists, engineers and future leaders. Shyu was speaking at a virtual town hall meeting on STEM sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and Dillard University. STEM refers to science, technology, engineering and math. 

That next generation workforce should also be diverse, she said. 

According to a study published in the "Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences," a more diverse team is more likely to outperform a more homogeneous team, even when the homogeneous team is considered to have relatively greater ability as individuals, Shyu said. 

A man writes on a clipboard.
Virtual Judge
A member of the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance community at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., volunteers to be a virtual judge for the eCYBERMISSION program hosted by the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Communications-Electronics Center, Dec. 11, 2012.
Photo By: Allison Barrow, Army
VIRIN: 121211-A-SR041-387

"This diverse STEM talent pool can help to solve our nation's toughest operational challenges with innovative solutions," she said.  

Those challenges, she said, include hypersonic missiles, cyberattacks, biological warfare, weaponized drones and supply chain risks. 

To address those challenges, DOD is partnering with universities, federally-funded research and development centers, the defense industry, the commercial sector and allies and partners, she said. 

A woman works with electronic equipment in a small room.
Warfare Project
A researcher at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., works to improve soldiers’ awareness of GPS threats by developing new tools in a navigation warfare project, Sept. 10, 2020.
Photo By: Daniel Lafontaine, DOD
VIRIN: 200910-O-AQ639-852

Since 2016, the DOD has elevated research and science activity at historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions by awarding 343 research grants totaling more than $187 million, she said. The DOD has also established centers of excellence for defense technology priority areas with those colleges and universities. 

The centers are catalysts for building research and education capacity, and they serve as hubs for networking ideas, she said. 

Since inception of the summer internship program at historically Black colleges and universities and minority institutions in 2017, 272 interns have received hands-on research experience at defense labs, and 57 of them have accepted jobs with DOD labs, Shyu said.  

A man touches a cylinder in a room with electronic equipment.
Engine Research
A researcher works on a T55 engine in an engine combustion chamber at an Army research lab in Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 2009.
Photo By: NASA
VIRIN: 220110-O-D0439-001

That program offers a summer researcher program for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM disciplines and a faculty-fellow summer program, she said. 

The student researcher program provides real world experience for students at DOD labs across the nation to conduct research under the supervision of DOD scientists and engineers, she said. Shyu added that many choose to remain with the DOD following completion of a program.