School of Engineering collaboration allows students to work with Gulfstream Aerospace

Three men stand in front of an airplane
Mercer faculty visit Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah. Photo courtesy of Dr. Alireza Sarvestani

School of Engineering students now have the opportunity to work on projects with Gulfstream Aerospace, thanks to a new collaboration between Mercer University and the Savannah-based aircraft company.

“Gulfstream Aerospace is one of the best and most advanced aerospace companies in the world,” said Dr. Alireza Sarvestani, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering who is leading the collaboration. “Gulfstream has all aspects of advanced engineering, such as mechanical, industrial, electrical and computer sciences to name a few.”

Dr. Sarvestani already has recruited four students who will start working with Gulfstream early in the spring semester on projects centered around material science. Over time, the breadth of projects and number of students will increase, he said.

He hopes the collaboration can also lead to permanent job placements for students.

“What I had in mind was, let’s work on a specific project that interests Gulfstream,” he said. “And we provide a pipeline for recruitment, education, training, and finally, employment short term or long term for Gulfstream.”

Cris Curtis, senior engineering manager for materials and processes engineering at Gulfstream, said among the goals of the collaboration are to help Gulfstream learn about different materials, become more knowledgeable and make better decisions.

“In the engineering world, more data is always good,” he said.

In addition, the collaboration will provide a hands-on, real-world experience for the students. With Gulfstream, students will participate in what-if scenarios and learn how to develop test plans. Gulfstream engineers will share the questions they are investigating and teach the students about their work, as well.

“Not everything that you need to do in the industry is learned in the university,” Curtis said.

Students also will gain perspective about important knowledge and skills needed in the field of engineering. This includes understanding what the customer wants, satisfying stakeholders and accomplishing projects in a timely manner, as well as knowing what’s going on in the industry, Curtis said.

“And then, ultimately, one of the most important things that I think the engineering students need to take away is the technical writing,” he said. “There’s a lot of documentation in the engineering world that has to be accomplished. So I’m hoping that they can learn that too.”

The collaboration continues a decades-long relationship between Gulfstream and the School of Engineering that began when the school opened in 1985.

In 2005, Gulfstream and the School of Engineering entered a formal partnership that provides financial support, curriculum development guidance and support, on-site sabbaticals for professors, continuing education programs, targeted recruiting of Mercer engineering graduates, and career development support for engineering alumni working at Gulfstream.

Dr. Vicki Britt, senior vice president for innovation, engineering and flight at Gulfstream, has served as the company’s representative on the Mercer National Engineering Advisory Board since 2017 and was instrumental in this latest collaboration.

Dr. Sarvestani first inquired about collaborating in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed planning.

Since then, Mercer and Gulfstream have had face-to-face meetings and site visits in Macon and Savannah. When Gulfstream visited Mercer’s laboratories, Vice President of Completions Engineering Naveed Aziz came to speak to the faculty and dean of the School of Engineering. Aziz is a Double Bear who received his undergraduate engineering degree from Mercer, as well as a Master of Business Administration. He is among 80 Mercer alumni — just over half of whom are School of Engineering graduates — employed at Gulfstream.

“This is a big deal for us and a great opportunity for faculty to get engaged in meaningful research activities,” Dr. Sarvestani said. “And more important than that is to train the students and put them into a pipeline that eventually can get them employed at one of the best aerospace companies in the world.”

He expects the collaboration to grow over the next year.

“The scope of collaboration will not be limited to material studies, material engineering and mechanical engineering,” he said. “We already have different faculty on board that we’re speaking with about doing data science, computer science and robotic analysis.”

Other Mercer faculty members also have had a pivotal role in the collaboration, including School of Engineering Dean Dr. Laura Lackey, Dr. Anthony Choi and Dr. Stephen Hill.

Dr. Choi, professor of electrical and computer engineering, said his role is to facilitate collaborative opportunities for both Mercer students and Gulfstream. He is working to identify research areas and projects for Mercer students to further engage with Gulfsteam in areas related to artificial intelligence, robotics, data analysis and digital control circuits.

“Mercer students will benefit by working on real-world projects and working closely with industry engineers from Gulfstream,” he said. “They will also have internship opportunities and full-time employment opportunities at an exciting company.”

Dr. Hill, associate dean and associate professor of mechanical engineering, said he will be working with students on specific projects and will try to reinstate a co-op program with Gulfstream in the future. The collaboration will allow Mercer students to gain experience applying the theory taught on campus in addition to connecting them with future careers at Gulfstream, he said.

Starting in the spring semester, Dr. Sarvestani said he will begin sending out information to speak to prospective students about the collaboration projects.

Curtis said Gulfstream is always looking to engage and work with the community, including universities like Mercer. The aerospace company is a gold sponsor and plans to attend the University’s Spring In-Person Career Expo on Feb. 22 in Macon.

“In the end, you don’t get very far if you don’t work together,” he said.


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