New AFRL collaboration with NSF INTERN program opens aperture for recruiting top talent

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Air and Space Forces will start 2021 with a fresh new partnership between the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) designed to advance the scientific and innovation skills of the United States and draw a whole new generation of globally-competitive, diverse scientists and engineers into the AFRL innovation ecosystem.

The partnership formalizes an opportunity for current and future NSF-funded graduate students to participate in six-month internships onsite at any of eight AFRL technology directorates. There they will get access to professional development and practical work experience in Air and Space Force-related areas, also known as Core Technical Competencies.

“We see this partnership as a real win-win for AFRL and NSF as it aligns with the strategic workforce development goals of both organizations,” said AFRL Chief Technologist, Dr. Timothy Bunning.

AFRL is responsible for leading the discovery, development, and delivery of warfighting technologies for the air, space, and cyberspace domain. Its success depends on a high-quality network of internal workforce and external partners who are knowledgeable of Air and Space Force science and technology challenges.

“Strengthening and formalizing this partnership with NSF allows us to deepen and expand our ecosystem by fostering the training and preparation of a new generation of science and engineering talent to serve our strategic needs,” added Bunning.

A long history of collaboration between the NSF and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR)—the AFRL technology directorate responsible for managing Department of the Air Force basic science funding—helped pave the way for this new partnership.

For nearly 70 years, AFOSR has worked in tandem with NSF and other fundamental science funding agencies in pursuit of new scientific knowledge largely found in the laboratories of U.S. and international universities. AFOSR then helps relay that knowledge to applied research projects in support of national defense.

Dr. Prakash Balan, Program Director at the NSF worked closely with the AFRL/AFOSR team in shaping this opportunity. “This partnership addresses the strategic workforce development objectives of the NSF. It provides a powerful opportunity for NSF supported graduate students to gain valuable experience and training, working closely with the scientists and technologists at the AFRL,” he said.

“We already had so many instances of scientific and programmatic collaboration between AFOSR and NSF that serving as the liaison between the NSF INTERN program and the other AFRL technology directorates under the auspices of the AFRL Chief Technology Office fit well within our sphere of impact,” said Dr. Van Blackwood the AFOSR Science and Engineering Division Tech Advisor and key facilitator of the partnership. “It was also a wonderful way for us to demonstrate our commitment to the objectives outlined in the U.S. Air Force 2030 Science and Technology Strategy.”

The Research Internships for Graduate Students at Air Force Research Laboratory (NSF-AFRL INTERN) Supplemental Funding Opportunity went public on December 11, 2020 when NSF issued a NSF Dear Colleague letter explaining the new opportunity. Read more about eligibility requirements and the broad AFRL opportunities available for graduate students at Dear Colleague Letter: Research Internships for Graduate Students at Air Force Research Laboratory (NSF-AFRL INTERN) Supplemental Funding Opportunity.