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UTRGV leading national collaborative to develop manufacturing innovations for U.S. DoD.

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Dr. Jianzhi Li, UTRGV professor of Manufacturing & Industrial Engineering, has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to establish educational opportunities that enhance manufacturing skills critical to the country’s defense systems.

The DOD, through the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, has selected seven awardees for the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program (MEEP).

Combined, the seven educational and industry partners will receive more than $32 million over a three-year period; of that, UTRGV will receive $3.96 million from 2020 to 2023.


Li, principal investigator on the grant, said that, supported by the grant, UTRGV is developing a consortium – called I-DREAM4D ( – to help educate and develop talented individuals to enhance defense manufacturing operations. The goal is to promote advanced additive manufacturing (AM) and smart manufacturing (SM), and to support innovations for the county’s defense industries.

“The goal is to have an impact on defense innovations and prepare engineers and scientists to carry out the work of moving forward the needs of the Department of Defense,” Li said. “We are excited to be one of just seven entities to be entrusted with this responsibility.”

Co-PIs on the grant are UTRGV professors of Manufacturing and Industrial Engineering Dr. Isaac Choutapalli, Dr. Alley Butler, Dr. Douglas Timmer and Dr. Anil Srivastava.

UTRGV’s focus as the project’s lead institution is to build a research-based collaborative between national research centers, national labs, defense manufacturers, local school districts and community colleges, and five higher education institutions, to include:

UTRGV UT Austin UT San Antonio Virginia Tech And Virginia State University.

Li said the mission is to cultivate “an innovation-driven manufacturing education ecosystem” that covers five regions in United States with a total population of 20 million. The programs involved will be focused on recruiting, engaging and educating talent that can advance the country’s defense systems.

“And UTRGV students who are part of or who are aided by the consortium will be well ready for a career in advanced manufacturing in the defense industries,” Li said.

Dr. Ala Qubbaj, dean of the UTRGV College of Engineering and Computer Science, said he is excited about the opportunities the grant will bring not only to UTRGV students but also to K-12.

“It will enhance pipelines and pathways into exciting engineering careers,” Qubbaj said. “We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Defense for entrusting UTRGV with this project. Our team, under the leadership of Dr. Li, has the dedication and experience to make the I-DREAM4D Consortium a great success at the national level.”


Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, director of Laboratories and Personnel in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said MEEP establishes programs that better position the current and next-generation manufacturing workforce to produce military systems and components that assure defense technological superiority.

“Awardees include a program for middle schoolers, as well as adult workforce retraining and projects focused on serving military veterans. These programs expand opportunities in cutting-edge manufacturing techniques – such as additive manufacturing and robotics – and strengthen important shop-floor skills like welding and machining.”

  • UTRGV: A consortium of partners will cultivate an educational ecosystem to draw young talent to additive manufacturing, smart manufacturing, and innovations in lightweight materials, structures and systems.

  • Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), Knoxville, Tennessee: IACMI and its collaborators will establish a national learning network, based on the best-in-class program at Davis Technical College in Utah, to develop a skilled composites-manufacturing workforce.

  • Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), Detroit, Michigan: This venture will expand Operation Next, a manufacturing-focused training and credentialing program for soldiers in their last six months of active duty, to nine new locations nationwide.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The initiative will develop a Virtual Manufacturing Lab that offers guided or autonomous online learning for three advanced manufacturing audiences: design engineers, fabrication engineers, and technicians.

  • Monroe Community College (MCC), Rochester, New York: MCC will enhance the nation’s optics workforce via improved curricula, apprenticeships and high school recruitment and outreach.

  • Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), Cleveland, Ohio: SME will develop an online, broad-based, advanced manufacturing curriculum delivered through Augmented and Virtual Reality that aligns with industry-recognized credentials.

  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia: The school will create university and continuing education curricula to develop engineering talent for advanced manufacturing of structures and integration with lightweight composites for electromagnetic applications critical to U.S. military superiority.

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering is responsible for the research, development, and prototyping activities across the Department of Defense. Learn more at

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