MACON – Mercer and Robins Air Force Base today held a formal signing ceremony on the University’s Macon campus to renew their existing Educational Partnership Agreement.
“This partnership is central to the University’s mission of preparing men and women for lives of service,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood. “We are especially proud to partner with an organization committed to defending not only our lives and property, but defending the timeless ideals on which this nation is founded, the ideals that have sustained us as a people for more than 200 years.”
The working relationship between the two entities predates the founding of Mercer’s School of Engineering in 1985. More than three decades later, this renewal agreement seeks to establish the partnership between the University and Robins Air Force Base as the model for collaboration between a higher education institution and a military installation.
“Those of us who wear the uniform have the privilege of being stationed at different places across the country, and I can guarantee you that Educational Partnership Agreements are signed all over,” said Brig. Gen. John C. Kubinec, commander of Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex. “But I would venture to say that we don’t have these kinds of elected officials and senior leaders in the community who want to come out and be a part of a signing ceremony like this. That’s how special this relationship between the Air Force and Mercer is to Middle Georgia and how important Robins Air Force Base is to the DNA of Middle 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.
To date, Mercer has awarded more than 2,000 degrees to engineers in a variety of fields, and MERC has received nearly $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.
Currently, the relationship between Mercer and Robins Air Force Base goes well beyond the School of Engineering and MERC:
- In 2012, Mercer’s Eugene W. Stetson School of Business and Economics launched a cohort-based Master of Business Administration degree program specifically for engineering and technical management coded positions at the WRALC. The program is still operating today, and more than 100 MBA degrees have been awarded since its inception.
- Mercer’s Penfield College, which serves post-traditional learners, is currently providing leadership training to the 78th Air Base Wing’s (ABW) Comptroller Squadron with plans to expand to other functional areas of the ABW.
- The Department of Computer Science in Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and the Mercer Innovation Center are aiding in the development of a new Air Force Innovation Hub at the base.
“We envision vast new opportunities for collaboration, and we’re building on a strong foundation as this partnership grows and develops,” said Dr. Penny Elkins, senior vice president for enrollment management at Mercer. “We really envision here a national model of collaboration between an institute of higher education and a military installation.”
“Mercer Engineering is synonymous with Robins Engineering,” added Thomas M. Fischer, director of engineering and technical management/services for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and a member of Mercer’s National Engineering Advisory Board. “A graduate of Mercer Engineering is technically ready to join the workforce on the first day, ready to join the engineering profession, is a leader dedicated to a life of service, mission-focused, innovative, and inspires and grows others. That’s the kind of people we want to hire.”
In addition to the signing of the renewal agreement, on Monday, the University unveiled a portrait of Nugteren that will be displayed in the lobby of the Science and Engineering Building.
“As we reflect upon the relationship between Mercer and Robins, I am convinced that no person, no commander, no leader contributed more forcefully to the transformation of that relationship than Maj. Gen. Cornelius Nugteren,” said Dr. Godsey, who currently serves as University chancellor. “In every respect, Newt was a game-changing leader, a make-things-happen sort of individual.”
Nugteren died Aug. 24, 2017, at the age of 89, following a distinguished military career of nearly four decades that included his tenure as commander of WRALC from 1982 to 1988 and his vital role in establishing the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins and Mercer’s School of Engineering in Macon.
He served on the University’s National Engineering Advisory Board (NEAB) and was named a NEAB Fellow in 2001. In 2004, he was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame, and he later received the Order of the Sword, bestowed on him by the men and women of the enlisted corps.
Nugteren retired from military service in 1988 and later became senior adviser to MERC from 1996-2015.
About Robins Air Force Base
Robins Air Force Base is home to multiple missions under multiple commands all working together to support America’s defense. 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 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.