By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
The engineering department at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) in Huntsville is no longer a best kept secret.
Word is getting out about the school named by HBCU Digest as a top program in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) among all historically black colleges and universities.
Much more is on the way, said Chance Glenn, PhD, dean of AAMU’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Physical Sciences.
“We’ve been funded by NASA to develop … game-changing technology,” he said in a recent interview. “This is in the realm of 3D printing and additive manufacturing. We have developed the technology. We call it Electronic Alchemy; it is 3D printing of electrons.”
The key to all of that is materials, 3D printing materials, said Glenn: “We have patents or patent pending on that process.”
How big is that?
He’s talking Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Harvard University big. He’s also talking Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and Apple big.
“All of those companies came out of universities, people who were at universities who had ideas,” he said. “This is that kind of innovation, and it’s going to be coming out. … We’re about to unleash that product.”
AAMU is in the running for some of the brightest minds to be part of this effort and has established a scholarship program that attracts the top students from across the nation.
“We’re bringing them in, and they’re having an impact on the culture,” Glenn said. “[These students are] having an impact on the outside world, on what industry and what government think about our program. When we send those students out to work in the field, they have that impact, and they change perceptions by what they do.”
Some of those students include athletes on the AAMU football team, like starting running back Jordan Bentley, a junior who came to the university partly because it was the only school that offered him a football scholarship. But the Guntersville native said that wasn’t the only reason.
“It also [was] a plus [because AAMU has] a good engineering school,” Bentley said. “In high school, I took engineering classes because I was interested in building and constructing things. I was in AP calculus. I took physics, things of that nature. I didn’t come here solely for football.”
Several AAMU football players major in engineering, including the starting quarterback Aqeel Glass and punter Spencer Corey, both sophomores; nickel defensive back Adrian Portlock and cornerback Joshua M. Williams, juniors; and fullback Jeron Jones, a senior. All told, 14 Bulldog football players are studying to become engineers.
Silicon Valley Interest
Students from AAMU’s engineering program are being noticed by potential employers.
“I’ve gotten calls from companies as far away as Los Angeles who know about us and are interested in having our students work for their companies,” Glenn said. “We have a relationship with SpaceX. We have relationships with Google, with Apple. These Silicon Valley companies … are interested in our students, as are [other major companies] like the Lockheeds, the Boeings, and the Raytheons. Government agencies like NASA, too. They all are very interested in what we’re doing.”
These companies are interested in AAMU’s students for several reasons.
“As an institution, AAMU—in particular, our [STEM] programs—sit at the intersection” of diversity and diversifying the workforce,” Glenn said.
“We also are the number-one producer of African-American STEM graduates in the state of Alabama.”
Glenn cited the American Society for Engineering Education, which ranks AAMU among national leaders in its percentage of female students taking engineering: “This is not [just] African-American females—this is all females.”
In fact, a recent AAMU career fair had its largest number of employers in attendance, primarily looking for STEM students.
‘Letting the World Know’
A lot of the success can be attributed to Glenn, who was featured in a recent edition of U.S. Black Engineering Information Technology magazine. His face is prominently displayed on the cover, promoting a Q&A about the state of HBCUs.
Glenn took the reins of AAMU’s engineering programs in August 2012, and only then did he grasp the resources available at this HBCU in Huntsville.
“I was very surprised,” he said of the school’s resources, which include a Mach 5 wind tunnel, a rating-1,000 clean room, and three particle accelerators.
“These are [used to] bombard elementary particles, the kind of things they have at major institutions,” Glenn said. “Well, we have three of them here, and we have people who know how to work on them.”
These are the things going on at AAMU that people just don’t know about—but that’s changing.
“We’re not keeping it a secret anymore,” the dean said. “We are letting the world know.”