Pratt & Whitney Gift Supports Engineering Education

This gas turbine module was purchased thanks to a gift from Pratt & Whitney.
This gas turbine module was purchased thanks to a gift from Pratt & Whitney. Photo courtesy of the School of Engineering

A generous financial gift from jet engine giant Pratt & Whitney has allowed the School of Engineering to purchase a gas turbine module for undergraduate students and to make much-needed upgrades to one of its laboratories.

Three of Pratt & Whitney’s top engineers—Paul Adams, senior vice president of engineering; Al Brockett, vice president of engineering – module centers; and Thomas Prete, chief engineer of hot section engineering—presented the gift to the University in May.

The gas turbine module is an important addition to a required course taken by all junior-level undergraduate mechanical engineers. In this laboratory course, students conduct hands-on experiments that help them explore how theory and experimental methods they learned previously – such as sensor networks, signal transduction, and error analysis – can be translated into engineering practice, according to Dr. Robert Gao, who is the school’s Pratt & Whitney Endowed Chair Professor.

The gift also allows the school to upgrade a laboratory devoted to mechatronics – an interdisciplinary area of engineering that combines mechanical and electrical engineering and computer science. Gao said the mechatronics laboratory serves a large pool of students from across the spectrum of engineering disciplines.

“This gift underscores the rich, multi-layered and symbiotic relationship that exists between UConn and Pratt & Whitney,” remarked engineering Dean Mun Choi. “Together, we are recruiting, training and nurturing exceptionally well-trained engineering graduates who bring value to commercial industry and to the state.”

Mr. Prete concurred, saying “This gift to the School of Engineering underlines Pratt’s commitment to a long-term, productive relationship with the educational community. We are excited by the engaged dynamic that has been created with the University of Connecticut, and we look forward to continuing to build on this relationship in the years ahead.”

A dynamic and collaborative relationship between commercial industry and academic institutions is integral to developing the well-trained, agile engineers who will build the 21st century. For decades, UConn’s School of Engineering has benefitted from a close alliance with Pratt & Whitney, its parent company United Technologies Corporation (UTC), and other units of the UTC family.

This close relationship has produced dividends for students, graduates, researchers, and the state of Connecticut.

Last year, Pratt & Whitney established a Center of Excellence at the University that set the stage for the company’s engineers and UConn faculty and students to collaborate on the design and development of more efficient gas turbine engines. The center provides a core for activities in advanced sensing, diagnostics and controls that will aid the development of next-generation commercial and military aircraft propulsion systems.

Pratt & Whitney, UTC, and its units have long supported undergraduate scholarships and internships, provided sustained support for minority recruiting programs, hired UConn graduates and supported collaborative research.  In 2010, UTC invited UConn to participate in its respected, highly successful “Engineering Ambassadors” program aimed at attracting greater numbers of women and minority students into the engineering profession and providing them mentorship to assume leadership roles.

In addition, the company sponsors the Pratt & Whitney Engineering Diversity Program Scholarship, which in 2011 provided assistance to 12 minority and female undergraduate students.  For more than a decade, the company has sponsored design projects for UConn engineering seniors, averaging four projects each year. And, like many area employers, Pratt & Whitney provides internships opportunities for talented undergraduate engineers, which allow students to gain valuable hands-on experience working side-by-side with practicing engineers. Many of UConn’s top engineering graduates build deeply rewarding careers at Pratt & Whitney, including Thomas Prete (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, ’85), who has spent more than two decades with the company.

The collaborative affinity between UConn and Pratt & Whitney remains an important and mutually transformative one that continues to grow and evolve in tune with the changing technological, educational and economic landscape.