MACON – Mercer and Robins Air Force Base on Oct. 23 held a signing ceremony at Drake Field House on the University’s Macon campus to extend the existing Educational Partnership Agreement between the two entities.

“Mercer is committed to our active-duty military, veterans and their families. As (Mercer) President (William D.) Underwood stated at the signing ceremony, ‘every day is Military Appreciation Day’ at Mercer,” said Dr. Penny Elkins, senior vice president for enrollment management at Mercer. “This partnership in particular allows us to continue this strong support of our military by reinforcing the longstanding relationship we have with our friends at Robins Air Force Base.” 

The working relationship between Mercer and Robins Air Force Base predates the founding of the University’s School of Engineering in 1985.

Nearly four decades later, more than 60 representatives from the Mercer, Robins, and the Middle Georgia community gathered to witness the signing of a document extending the partnership that exemplifies collaboration between a higher education institution and a military installation. The new agreement extends the partnership an additional three years until 2024.

“Mercer University has been a steadfast friend and partner to Robins Air Force Base for decades,” said Brig. Gen. Jennifer Hammerstedt, Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex commander. “Even though this is an extension of an existing agreement, it carries with it a feeling of excitement for the future. Our modern missions rely on high-tech expertise and problem solving, and that drives our immense need for the best minds in engineering and science. The strong network we have between academia, industry and government plays a major role in maintaining the technological edge required in today’s military, and we are fortunate to have tremendous partner, like Mercer, here in the state of Georgia.”

In 1983, Warner Robins Air Logistics Center (WRALC) Commander Maj. Gen. Cornelius “Newt” Nugteren and Mercer President Dr. R. Kirby Godsey developed a plan to remedy a shortage of engineers on base by providing a local source of engineers and engineering research. Mercer and the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce jointly sponsored a five-month study of current and projected needs for various types of engineers. The results supported Nugteren’s view that the region did not have the educational programs to meet the needs of the base, nor the needs of other industries targeted for economic development.

In December 1984, Mercer’s Board of Trustees approved plans for an engineering school, and the University welcomed its first class of engineering students in the fall of 1985. Less than two years later, Mercer Engineering Research Center (MERC), the applied engineering and research arm of the University, opened in Warner Robins.

“The Mercer Engineering Research Center is proud to be part of Mercer University. The greatest reward for MERC is in supporting the warfighter. This Educational Partnership Agreement continues the years of cooperation between Robins Air Force Base, Mercer and MERC, and will strengthen the support we provide. This agreement will continue to build upon that partnership and help develop the STEM workforce of tomorrow,” said Andi Mitchell, executive director of MERC.

To date, Mercer has awarded more than 2,800 degrees to engineers in a variety of fields, and MERC has received more than $500 million in contracts, including support for 20 different models of U.S. Air Force aircraft and one Navy submarine.

The School of Engineering has provided more entry-level engineers to Robins Air Force Base than any other school, and nearly half of the School’s living alumni reside in Middle Georgia.

In 2020, Mercer and the 402nd Software Engineering Group within the WRALC partnered to create Blue Sky, an innovative software laboratory located in the Lofts at Capricorn adjacent to Mercer Music at Capricorn in downtown Macon. The lab houses 40 to 50 software engineers from Robins Air Force Base at any given time along with Mercer engineering and computer science interns.

Additional collaboration between the two entities includes Mercer’s School of Business offering a cohort-based Master of Business Administration degree program specifically for engineering and technical management coded positions at the WRALC; Mercer’s College of Professional Advancement providing leadership training for the 78th Air Base Wing’s Comptroller Squadron; and the Department of Computer Science in Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Mercer Innovation Center  assisting in the development of the Spark Innovation Hub at the base.

About Robins Air Force Base and the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex

Robins Air Force Base is home to 54 mission partners, covering five major commands and three wings, totaling 23,000 Total Force Airmen all working together to support America’s defense. Robins Air Force base covers 6,935 acres and is Georgia’s largest single-site industrial complex. Major units include Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, 116th Air Control Wing, 461st Air Control Wing, 78th Air Base Wing, 5th Combat Communications Group and the 638th Supply Chain Management Group. There are also a number of Defense Logistics Agency and AF Life Cycle Management Center activities here, as well as a number of smaller units and organizations, which are important to the base, Air Force and Department of Defense.

The Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex consists of a world-class workforce of more than 7,200 personnel. The Complex performs programmed depot maintenance and modification on all variants of theF-15 Strike Eagle, C-5 Galaxy, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, several Special Operations Forces aircraft, the RQ-4 Global Hawk,E-8C Joint STARS and TH-1H Iroquois helicopter. Additionally, the Complex is responsible for the maintenance, repair and overhaul of diverse aircraft components, avionics and electronic warfare equipment along with development and sustainment of mission critical software, test program sets and automated test equipment.