Discovering and Developing Hidden Engineering Talent

Governor’s Workforce Partnership Awards recognize business, education, community-based organizations, and the public sector who are working together to expand Connecticut’s workforce

CoE students at the rededication of the Pratt & Whitney Engineering Building, held in April

CoE students at the rededication of the Pratt & Whitney Engineering Building, held in April

The UConn College of Engineering (CoE), the Vergnano Institute for Inclusion (VII) at UConn’s College of Engineering, and Pratt & Whitney (P&W) partnership recently received Honorable Mention at the inaugural Governor’s Workforce Partnership Awards held in Southington, Conn. The award ceremony was part of The Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s Connecticut Workforce Summit.

Among 34 nominations, the CoE/P&W collaboration is one of only four receiving this honor, which was presented by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, on behalf of Governor Lamont, who spoke at the opening ceremonies earlier that day. Specifically, Pratt & Whitney’s work with VII – Engineering Ambassadors, BRIDGE and the Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program were cited.

Under the subtitle, “Discovering Hidden Talent,” the Summit featured presenters and participants from business, education, community-based organizations and the public sector who are working together to expand Connecticut’s workforce. Per its title, this year’s summit focused on developing a more diverse and inclusive Connecticut workforce through public-private partnerships that are expanding access to training, education and work/study programs. Goals include strengthening employee pipelines, supporting historically underserved communities and creating a more robust state economy.

“This partnership exemplifies the power of academia and industry joining forces to propel advancements in aerospace engineering,” said UConn Engineering Dean Kazem Kazerounian. “More than that, though, this recognition celebrates the good work of people joining together toward a common goal: highly skilled, diverse communities. We appreciate Pratt & Whitney for supporting our engineers in all stages of life.”

Improving outcomes for underrepresented minorities in Connecticut

Pratt & Whitney supports multiple programs at UConn aimed at increasing the diversity of the engineering workforce and improving outcomes for underrepresented minorities in Connecticut. P&W and UConn achieve these goals via three programs that engage and support would-be engineers at all levels of their educational journey from early to late grade-school through the Engineering Ambassadors program; to the transition to college with the BRIDGE program; and finally, while they are students at UConn, with the Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program.

Dave Golfin, associate director, Systems Engineering at Pratt & Whitney, accepted the gubernatorial citation on behalf of the company. He was accompanied by Jadon Gomez-Stafford, a UConn mechanical engineering student participating in the Pratt & Whitney Scholars program, and by Stephany Santos, just named the new Vergnano Endowed Chair for Inclusion at UConn Engineering.

Golfin was a member of the Engineering Ambassadors program when he was an engineering undergraduate at UConn. He says that experience, including sharing his passion for engineering with young students across the state, motivated him to take on a leadership role in the UConn and RTX engineering outreach partnerships, including the Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program.

“There is a huge need in engineering to connect underrepresented and undiscovered talent with the training, skills development and funding necessary for them to discover engineering as a viable career path and build a successful career,” Golfin explains. “This award recognizes the Pratt & Whitney and UConn partnerships, some in place for over a decade. It’s my hope that this recognition has brought our programs to the forefront of other industry, state, and educational organizations’ minds such that they may implement their own similarly purposed programs and increase opportunities for the next generation of Connecticut workers.”

The Engineering Ambassadors program, with an annual grant from RTX – Pratt & Whitney’s parent company – trains undergraduate engineering students from all backgrounds in communication and presentation skills. This allows them to effectively engage K-12 students around the state to promote a STEM education and related careers. The Engineering Ambassadors program puts young students of all backgrounds, with little exposure to the concepts of engineering, in front of near-peers who show them how accessible an engineering career can be.

The BRIDGE program has played a pivotal foundational role for underrepresented minority students in their academic journey, supporting more than 1,400 young engineers since its inception. Over five weeks the summer prior to freshman year, BRIDGE gives these students exposure to the professors, college environment, and courses they will be taking and helps them forge crucial connections with their peers before the hectic pace of freshman fall takes hold.

The program consists of on-campus residency with coursework, lab exposure, industry tours, team building, and networking opportunities. In addition, this program stays connected with those students and provides a resource to them throughout their college experience to ensure they have support throughout their UConn experience, and enhances retention and graduation. Pratt & Whitney provides financial support for program operation and scholarships for students leading into their freshman year, and hosts BRIDGE students for tours of the Pratt & Whitney labs, shop floors, and training center.

Pratt & Whitney Vice President of Engineering and Technology Geoff Hunt speaks at the Vergnano Showcase 2024
Pratt & Whitney Vice President of Engineering and Technology Geoff Hunt speaks at the Vergnano Showcase 2024

The Pratt & Whitney Scholars Program is a five-year, $1.25 million annual investment to benefit underrepresented minority engineers of the UConn College of Engineering. The program comprises annual cohorts of five students who receive a $10,000 annual scholarship for four years; engineering internship opportunities after their sophomore year; and a Pratt & Whitney-sponsored senior design capstone project. In addition to these annual scholarships, Pratt & Whitney Scholars are also introduced to a near-peer mentor, who is an engineer at Pratt & Whitney, and an executive mentor who is a director or higher-level contributor within the company. The program is funded to support 20 students with a goal to extend beyond the initial five-year partnership with UConn’s College of Engineering.

Gomez-Stafford, entering his senior year this fall, is about to start his second summer internship at Pratt & Whitney’s facilities in East Hartford, where he’ll focus on developing his quality control and modeling skills as a commercial aircraft engine manufacturing designer. In his previous internship, he served as a project engineer studying engineering changes and failure analysis for military aircraft engines.

“This has been an incredibly rewarding opportunity for me, personally and professionally, especially since I’ve always been drawn to aerospace and hope one day to work with NASA and help design space suits for astronauts,” Gomez-Stafford explains. “I started out with BRIDGE as a freshman, which opened doors to training, mentors and scholarships, including participating in the first cohort of the Pratt & Whitney Scholars program. That kind of foundation and experience is critical, as mechanical engineering is a challenging, daunting and competitive field.”

Gomez-Stafford says he’s planning to remain at UConn’s College of Engineering after his senior year to complete his master’s, specializing in aerospace and biomedical engineering. He credits the Vergnano Institute and Pratt & Whitney for their commitment to helping engineering students more effectively navigate from arrival to graduation.

“Proactive outreach programs like those offered through UConn and the College of Engineering help change the playing field, especially for minority students,” he reflects. “They provide opportunities that would be far more challenging to achieve without this coordinated guidance and support, and truly make a difference. I’m proud we’ve been recognized by CBIA and the Governor’s Workforce Partnership, and honored to be part of this program as they showcase hidden talent in the UConn engineering community.”