NextFlex Leads Recipients of $5M in Naval Research Funding for Workforce Education Program Expansion


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NextFlex®, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute, announced the expansion of its manufacturing workforce education activities with $5 million in funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Through the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program (MEEP), the $5 million will support the development of eight new education programs modeled on NextFlex’s award-winning, FHE-focused FlexFactor® program. Each new program will focus on a different technology area, such as advanced robotics, biopharmaceuticals and tissue biofabrication. Most programs will target K-12 students, with one program focused on 4-year university students.

“Our country is in a time of uncertainty, where everyone is wondering what comes next, both from a workforce and education perspective,” explains NextFlex’s Executive Director, Dr. Malcolm Thompson. “This collaboration between organizations is focusing on building what comes next, allowing us to motivate young minds across the country to pursue STEM-based careers by familiarizing them with cutting-edge advanced manufacturing technologies and showing them education pathways to these industries.”

NextFlex will lead the development of these new programs, in partnership with eight sister non-profit organizations who will co-create and eventually run the programs autonomously. The programs will address the interest and awareness gaps plaguing the STEM sector pipeline in multiple regions of the country. The nine organizations slated to receive funding from the MEEP Grant, along with their technology focus and pilot locations, are:

  • America Makes, Additive Manufacturing, Youngstown, OH
  • ARM, Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing, Pittsburgh, PA
  • BioFabUSA, Tissue Biofabrication, Manchester, NH
  • IACMI, Advanced Composites, Knoxville, TN
  • MxD, Digital Manufacturing and Cybersecurity, Chicago, IL
  • NextFlex, FHE, San Jose, CA
  • NIIMBL, Biopharmaceuticals, Newark, DE
  • RAPID, Modular Chemical Process Intensification, New York, NY
  • Spark Photonics Foundation (the education and workforce development arm of AIM Photonics), Photonics, Waltham, MA

These partner organizations incorporate some of the most cutting-edge applications of advanced manufacturing into their technology focus areas of work to assist in creating an innovative and resilient industry for the future.

“Reaching back into the student population is a critical step in creating the future workforce for these technologies because the population who will be working with them when they are fully commercialized is mostly in K-12 grades today. Using the FlexFactor approach, we are attracting a deep and diverse talent pool with a program that demonstrates the power of advanced manufacturing,” said Emily McGrath, NextFlex Director Workforce Development, Education and Training.

The program material creation, which will bring in education partners and industry participants, is slated to begin later in 2020, with all participants monitoring the ongoing impact of COVID-19 to determine the best time to launch the in-school element.

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