The University of West Florida is adding to its history as a military-friendly school by establishing the formation of a new Office of Military Engagement.
Additionally, retired Navy Capt. Chris Middleton has been tapped to serve as military liaison to the university president.
In February, President Martha Saunders announced creation of the UWF Office of Military Engagement to strengthen University relationships with military, defense industry, and federal partners. Middleton will now serve as the primary point of contact.
As the basis for this latest step, Middleton credits the success of the UWF Military and Veterans Resource Center, which has served spouses, children, active and reserve military, and veterans since it opened in 2011.
“So, the flagship for Veteran activity on campus is there with the MVRC,” said Middleton reference the 3,000 military and veteran-related students being served.
“It makes sense to develop an outreach point of contact now, and that would be me now. And our goal is to further develop relations with senior leaders in the region.”
In accepting this appointment, Middleton says one of his charges is to make contact with current senior leaders, both locally and in Washington, D. C. or at the higher headquarters.
He says his job is to first, “Talk one about our success at UWF and our ambition at UWF in our learner centered activities that would be all of the majors and disciplines and certificates and other qualifications we offer.” Additionally, he noted opportunities in graduate school and with specific research projects.
A lot of what Middleton will be doing is exploring and developing the common ground that the university has with the military and the defense industry.
He says consider, for example, if a primary defense contractor, or possibly the Air Force Research Lab at Eglin, is working on a specific material or project and the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering is working on a similar project.
“Somebody, and now that would be this point of contact, would want to put those two entities together to grow that work or accelerate that work for the benefit of perhaps the government contract or just the benefit of our own students and their chance to do research.”
Middleton is well suited for his work at UWF. Before retiring from active duty, he was based in Pensacola at the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC), which he refers to as headquarters for the Navy’s university system.
Also, he believes his new role as President Saunders’ military liaison compliments his job as director for strategic innovation at UWF. He says the Innovation Institute has been heavily involved in community engagement and economic development since 2013.
“We not only host our Story Lab and some of the other activities downtown, but we routinely perform a client service for strategic planning or design thinking,” said Middleton. “We have a specific method; we call it the idea method, and we can walk a team either to rapid prototyping or some kind of quick solution in short order, less than a day.”
Middleton say their work at the Innovation Institute has been well received, not only across their own university departments, but also with companies that have brought in their executive teams, fiduciary boards and non-profits.
Middleton says a major focus of the university is on future workforce development, connecting the well over 100,000 local military members with higher education through the MVRC or with the university’s business partners. Also, UWF chairs and charters manufacturing councils to serve as a contact point for the state and interested businesses.
In this area of his work, Middleton says companies may come to the university as an available partner and inquire about how they can get more engineers. His response might me, ‘Well we have some of our own.”
But, he may also suggest a view through the military lens, and ask if the companies are aware of the Air Force Research Lab or the 7,000 people at the Aviation school on NAS Pensacola, or the unclassified activities at Corry Station. Further, he notes federal partners like the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or whether the National Security Agency (NSA) happens to have individuals available. Once the proper entities are identified, the goal is to come up with a plan to connect them for growth.
In the area of advanced manufacturing, Middleton points to the university’s new Sea3D Additive Manufacturing Lab in downtown Pensacola. The opening in January officially marked the launch of the University of West Florida Innovation Network.
“So, the lab is a resource, the workforce is a focus item for the businesses, and the military is also an advanced manufacturer.” Middleton said. “The military gets the opportunity to serve in the center of that network and connect it. And. at the end, it could result in jobs for our graduate, jobs for our citizens locally, jobs for our veterans. And that’s just a job example.”
Middleton added his new duties as military liaison last month. At the time of our conversation, he said there already were irons in the fire, with contacts at Stanford University and military leaders in Washington, D. C., looking at issues of common ground from recruiting to initiatives for a successful freshman year.
UWF also has been deliberate in reaching out to some leaders in industry that have highly technical military backgrounds. Some of them, he says, are recognizable primary defense contractors.
Earlier this month (Mar. 13), Middleton traveled to Washington, D.C. to be a featured speaker at the Washington Cyber Roundtable, which focused on how the government, industry and universities are working together to protect critical infrastructure and build cyber resiliency.
Last week, (Mar. 20), the university announced a partnership between the UWF Center for Cybersecurity and the Florida Agency for State Technology to provide cutting-edge cybersecurity education and training for state agency personnel.