OSU Partners with Navatek to Create Unmanned Systems Research Internship Program

A new internship program at Oklahoma State University’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI) is taking flight.

Navatek, a leader in innovative research and development services for the Department of Defense, NASA and other government agencies, has awarded a $25,000 research grant to support up to 12 student internships that will run from June to Aug. 15. The interns will consist of high school and undergraduate students at USRI at OSU as part of their Engineering Development Program. These students will have the opportunity to work on projects at USRI’s lab, EXCELSIOR, as well as Navatek’s new Stillwater office and various other locations on the OSU campus. These projects will focus on development and testing of new technologies for unmanned aircraft systems and related technologies.

“Due to the number of canceled internships because of the pandemic, we had a number of bright and talented students looking for something impactful to do,” said USRI Director Dr. Jamey Jacob. “Having the ability to support these creative students with training on timely projects helps keep the STEM pipeline flowing which will be critical to the future aerospace and high-tech workforce of Oklahoma.”

The high school students chosen for the internships come from various high schools throughout Oklahoma, including Stillwater, Del City and Sand Springs. Five of the undergraduate students have transitioned from USRI’s previous high school intern program including one national merit winner, Nicco Wang, and two finalists, Daniel Tikalsky and Omar Abouzahr, all of Stillwater.

“Some of these future OSU grads will have inevitably moved out of state to enter the workforce. Now they can remain in Oklahoma and support cutting edge [Department of Defense] unmanned aerospace work, right here in Stillwater.

“The partnership between Navatek and OSU will increase OSU’s aerospace engineering visibility with direct sponsorships of internships and cooperative research programs. Attracting undergraduate interns will expose them to OSU’s nationally recognized UAS research and dedicated UAS graduate engineering program, thus creating a conduit for quality graduate students at OSU,” said Dr. Rick Gaeta, Navatek’s director of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) R&D.

“We see this relationship as a total win-win for both OSU and Navatek” said Gary Ambrose, Navatek chief operating officer, who is based in Stillwater. “We can now sponsor engineering research directly into OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI); while providing a direct hiring path for engineering graduates; retaining them for high paying and hi-tech jobs locally in Stillwater.”

Both Gaeta and Ambrose have deep ties to OSU. Gaeta has been assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, instructing both graduate and undergraduate aerospace engineering students while also helping to develop a first-of-its-kind graduate engineering option for UAS.

Ambrose (US Navy Commander/retired) was an adjunct instructor in OSU’s Aviation Education Department as well as the deputy director of USRI. Both will hold adjunct positions at OSU going forward as they continue to help develop young engineers through OSU’s Aerospace Engineering program. This will help to maintain a strong collaboration with research faculty at OSU, as well as to develop a recruiting pipeline to keep the best and brightest students in Stillwater doing research and development on unmanned systems.

“This strategic partnership between Navatek and OSU is one of our most important university relationships to date. We see nothing but growth for the future of Navatek and USRI,” said Martin Kao, Navatek chief executive officer. Navatek has already hired five employees at its new Stillwater office, committing over $2 million in investment in Stillwater, with plans on hiring up to eight more employees by the end of the year.

“This partnership between Navatek and Oklahoma State University is great for both of them — but it is also a win for Oklahoma. These internships provide a pathway for career development, keeping Oklahoma’s best and brightest working in the state and growing our economy. I applaud both Navatek and OSU for their longstanding work to advance our state’s economic potential in the aviation and aerospace fields,” said Senator Jim Inhofe.

Gov. Kevin Stitt called it a phenomenal opportunity for the interns that also highlights the opportunities available to companies when they collaborate with our state’s universities.

“Oklahoma is committed to growing workforce development and availability in the state as they are key drivers to recruiting business,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “I am excited to watch this partnership between Navatek and OSU develop.”

Building on this, Rep. Tom Cole added, “I’m pleased that Navatek is supporting OSU’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute internships. This is a great opportunity for both college and high school students to not only have the chance to assist OSU with research, but to get hands on experience and prepare them for jobs in the future. Initiatives like these will greatly strengthen our workforce for years to come.”

Rep. Kendra Horn praised Navatek’s investment in Oklahoma’s students.

“Their generous scholarships provide OSU students the opportunity to work on innovative and cutting-edge unmanned aircraft systems and other projects through the EXCELSIOR Lab. The students and professors at OSU are leading the nation in advancing this unmanned aircraft technology and these scholarships will help continue this important work. I am excited to see this investment in the next generation of STEM professionals,” said Horn.

Rep. Frank Lucas added, “These UAV research internships are the latest sign that Navatek is here for Oklahoma and here to stay. It’s been exciting to follow the work being done in Stillwater between Navatek and Oklahoma State’s UAV research program. Navatek is bringing years of industry-leading experience and a pro-growth mindset to their Stillwater venture, and these 12 students will be fortunate to be on the cutting edge of this work.

“If we want high quality STEM jobs in Oklahoma we have to continually develop the pipeline from the classroom to industry. I appreciate Navatek leading this effort in Stillwater and look forward to supporting them as they grow their office and nurture their relationship with OSU.”

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