Rolls-Royce partnership revs up UVA job engine

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Ten UVA engineering students are interning this summer at a Rolls-Royce jet-engine factory in Indianapolis. Next summer, the same internship may be much closer to home—if still a distance from Charlottesville.

Rolls-Royce’s $500 million Crosspointe jet engine factory, currently under construction, is one of several research facilities created from the business’ partnership with UVA.

By early 2011, Rolls-Royce plans to finish constructing a new jet-engine plant on a 1,000-acre site in Prince George County which will eventually become the company’s largest manufacturing center in North America. When fully built out, the site, called Crosspointe, will employ about 500 and cost Rolls-Royce about $500 million. It will attract a broad spectrum of the workforce, ranging from technicians requiring associate degrees to Ph.D.-level researchers. 

UVA engineering professor Barry Johnson helped write the proposal that convinced Rolls-Royce to build the center in Virginia, and says he is excited that his students and colleagues will be linked to “some of the most advanced aerospace technologies in the world.”

In addition to the factories, UVA, Virginia Tech and the state have banded together to create two research centers that will complement Rolls-Royce’s work. The Commonwealth Center for Aerospace Propulsion Systems is already up and running at both schools and the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing is slated to open its doors in Prince George County—more than 90 miles from UVA—by early 2012. 

The propulsion center is where students and their professors will conduct initial research. Those ideas will be further explored by advanced scientists at the manufacturing center where they will refine the blueprints and craft proposals for Rolls-Royce and other companies to consider.

“By working side-by-side with industry to understand what the real problems are,” Johnson says, “we can work with concepts at our universities that can then be accelerated into solutions.”

Crosspointe may also solve the job-market jitters for some, according to Johnson.

“It will create opportunities for students who want to go straight from an undergraduate degree to employment,” he says. In addition, UVA Engineering will hire 11 faculty members as a part of the partnership, while three positions will be created within the McIntire School of Commerce.

In fact, UVA has already hired two faculty members—one from the University of Illinois’ well-reputed engineering program and one from NASA Glenn Research Center in Ohio.

“They are of very high quality,” Johnson says, “and Rolls-Royce has told us these first two hires are exactly the kind they had in mind.”

Virginia was among eight states that Rolls-Royce considered for the site, but in the end the company chose the Old Dominion because of its quality of life and the presence of two top-notch engineering schools, according to Rolls-Royce spokeswoman Mia Walton. In addition, the company recently moved its North America headquarters to Reston, Virginia.

“Throughout the selection process, Virginia was extremely competitive,” Walton said. 

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