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Office of Naval Research Taps Morgan State University’s School of Engineering to Spearhead Initiative to Cultivate Diversity Pipeline of Engineers

by Morgan State U
October 23, 2023

Nearly $500,000 Grant Establishes Education, Workforce Development and Research Programs to Seed STEM Education and Career Paths Among Youth


BALTIMORE – Morgan State University’s School of Engineering is spearheading a noteworthy initiative aimed at increasing interest and participation in Navy STEM educational programs among Baltimore-area youth through a $446,000 grant awarded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Aerospace Science Research Division. The four-year grant, and the initiative it seeds, will provide critical STEM programming, access to resources, faculty research opportunities, and student enrichment activities from K-12 through college.  The ONR-sponsored initiative is uniquely designed to impact diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within the Department of Defense, particularly the U.S. Navy.

Dean of the Clarence M. Mitchell School of Engineering (SOE), Oscar Barton, Jr., Ph.D., PE, will serve as the sole Principal Investigator (PI) for this transformative grant. Under his leadership, the wide-sweeping project sets out to establish a highly connected network, support structure, and proving ground that positively impacts STEM education, workforce development, and research opportunities among diverse student populations.

Oscar Barton, Jr.“Morgan is a well-established leader in the production of Black engineers who have made, and continue to make, significant contributions to fields of engineering in varying capacities,” said Dr. Barton. “We are extremely grateful to the Office of Naval Research and the opportunities afforded by their investment in Morgan. Through this initiative, we will be actively cultivating next-generation engineers and tapping the promising talent of underrepresented communities to ensure the engineering community is as diverse as the world it serves.”

Through this effort, Morgan will seek to directly address talent pipeline deficiencies related to underrepresented communities serving within the Department of Defense’s workforce. It will also provide invaluable exposure to faculty and students, fostering research and project opportunities while contributing to the enhancement of the economic competitiveness of the United States.

Together, ONR and Morgan see great potential in the project as a conduit for leading to additional outreach efforts, enhancing industry-sponsored capstone projects, improving the introductory experience for first-year students, and creating contractual and research opportunities for faculty members.

“ONR is excited to partner with universities nationwide to support diversity and growth of future scientists and engineers,” said Rear Adm. Kurt Rothenhaus, the chief of naval research and Naval STEM executive.  “Mitchell School of Engineering at Morgan State University, has a rich history in world class STEM workforce development.” 

Dr. Barton and supporting faculty from Morgan’s School of Engineering will administer a variety of educational initiatives and programs. One key focus of this grant is empowering K-12 students by increasing awareness and participation through pre-college enrichment programs. These programs, including the Naval High School Science Awards Program (NSAP) and the Science and Engineering Apprentice Program (SEAP), are specifically aimed at nurturing young talent and fostering an interest in STEM fields from an early age.

two students at a tech research deskIn addition to empowering students, the grant also emphasizes teacher readiness for STEM engagement. It will provide educators with a framework and infrastructure to embrace an interdisciplinary approach to STEM education, incorporating a "Teach the Teacher" model. Enrichment programs will enhance K-12 teacher readiness for effective STEM instruction.

Continuing post-secondary education, community college and four-year engineering students will be encouraged to participate in programs like SMART), and a facilities visitation program designed to introduce students to research and workforce opportunities at a Warfare Center (one of six official Naval research laboratories). SMART, which stands for Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation, provides financial and scholarship support for students pursing post-secondary studies.  Participants enhance their experiences with summer internships working with researchers and technologists nationwide. The initiative also extends to senior engineering students who will be exposed to real-world challenges through a Senior Capstone Design Competition. Lastly, the grant will facilitate faculty research opportunities, offering workshops, conferences, and the ONR Faculty Lecture Series to promote cutting-edge research within the university. This grant holds the promise of fostering a vibrant STEM ecosystem and preparing future leaders in science and technology.

Naval Research recruitment eventAccording to Dr. Barton, an aspect of the ONR-funded project yielding the greatest potential will be opportunities for Morgan students to mentor K-12 students with an interest in STEM. Among the notable programs include:

SeaPerch Saturday Academy
This fall, the School of Engineering will host a 6-week Saturday Academy where high school students will build SeaPerch underwater remote-operated vehicles. Seven Morgan undergraduate and graduate students will serve as mentors during this program. 

NSBE, Jr. Chapter
The establishment of a National Society of Black Engineers Jr. Chapter aims to increase participation of middle school students in STEM activities. Four Morgan students will mentor these young members using the Phones for Physics program.

Educational Program Ambassadors
Ten Morgan students will represent the university during ONR Educational Program outreach activities, visiting high schools throughout Maryland to increase awareness of our engineering programs and educational programs offered by the Office of Naval Research.

Earlier this year, ONR awarded Morgan a grant to address a critical Department of Defense (DoD) need for research in building diverse knowledge bases related to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), directly related to cybersecurity. The research is being conducted collaboratively between the newly launched Center for Equitable Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Systems (CEAMLS) and the Cybersecurity Assurance and Policy (CAP) Center. The centers will study the development of formal standards and best practices to test and design new AI and ML innovations that mitigate algorithmic bias. 

The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 55 countries, 634 institutions of higher learning and nonprofit institutions, and more than 960 industry partners.


About Morgan
Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified high research (R2) institution offering more than 140 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University, and the only university to have its entire campus designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit

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Media Contacts:
Dell Jackson or Larry Jones, for University PR