(L-R) UH Mānoa engineering students Adam James Macalalag, Eric Takahashi, Efren Enriquez and Matthew Nakamura hold a rocket they built and launched as part of the Spaceport America Cup competition in 2019. Credit: UH

By: Dr. Brennon Morioka, Dean of UH Mānoa College of Engineering

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s College of Engineering is renewing its focus to develop next-generation leaders in the field of aerospace engineering. The College has long held expertise in this arena, but up until recently it has largely served a supplemental role to the various concentrations within the Mechanical Engineering (ME) Department. In response to the potential growth of an aerospace industry focused around small sat/cubesat initiatives, the College embarked on establishing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science degree program with a concentration in Aerospace Engineering, which launched in fall of 2019.

This fall, the College launched an Aerospace Engineering Seminar Series, which has proved popular with our students and faculty alike, bringing in world-renowned experts with diverse backgrounds to educate and inspire our community on a variety of topics. Recent speakers have included former NASA astronaut Richard Hieb, who addressed leadership development and career opportunities in the field, and PISCES Chairperson—and UH alumnus—Henk Rogers, who thrilled us with the possibilities of human colonization on the Moon.

A rocket built by UH Mānoa engineering students launches skyward at Las Cruces, New Mexico in June 2019. Credit: UH

Today, with a resurgent interest in space exploration, growing research collaborations, and the potential for a Space Force presence in Hawaiʻi, faculty from the ME Department, the Hawaiʻi Space Flight Laboratory (HSFL) and the Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) have built momentum in furthering the University’s position in aerospace engineering education and research. Through these collaborative efforts, we have established a new goal of building the aerospace engineering program from an engineering science degree concentration into a stand-alone aerospace engineering degree within the ME department. This will take greater advantage of the cross-disciplinary expertise that already exists within the University and between related units, namely Engineering and the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).

To accomplish this objective, SOEST Dean Brian Taylor and I have tasked ME Department Co-chairs Lloyd Hihara and Weilin Qu, HIGP Professor Peter Englert and HSFL Director Luke Flynn to lead the effort in developing curriculum proposals and focus areas for cross-disciplinary research efforts for the proposed Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering degree program. While there is still much to do in order to realize this goal, we are tremendously optimistic about what these partnerships will bring; not only to the University, but to the State of Hawaiʻi, renewing interest in aerospace engineering and space exploration in the decades to come.

As the newest board representative for PISCES, I am honored to be a part of this dialogue and have a seat at the table. We at the College are excited about what the future holds for the field of aerospace engineering here in the islands, and we look forward to continuing collaborations between PISCES and our faculty and students.