Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

December 13, 2021

With jobs in high demand, UHart kicks off state’s first-ever aerospace engineering program

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Aerospace engineering student Alba Marcelin (left) and her professor, Paul Slaboch, look at a red car inside a wind tunnel located in the Pratt & Whitney Turbo Machinery lab at the University of Hartford’s Hursey Center.

With significant and growing statewide demand for manufacturing engineers in Connecticut, the University of Hartford has introduced a new bachelor’s degree program that aims to supply a new generation of talent for firms ranging from small supply chain shops to Fortune 500 companies.

UHart’s aerospace engineering program — the first of its kind in Connecticut and just the fourth in New England — has already caught the attention of East Hartford jet-engine maker Pratt & Whitney, which has partnered with the school in various ways. It has also worked with NASA.

The need to produce more engineers is an urgent one, according to Colin Cooper, chief manufacturing officer for the state.

The general consensus among aerospace companies is that Connecticut will need about 7,000 new manufacturing workers annually “into the foreseeable future.”

Those jobs run the gamut from machinists to quality assurance professionals and design engineers. They also pay well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual salary for aerospace engineering professionals is $116,500.

The problem: The workforce is getting older, Baby Boomers are retiring and there is a need to fill those jobs.

“We skew old and about 35% of the workforce [in manufacturing and aerospace] is 55 years old or older,” Cooper said. “A lot of our older technicians are retiring and the clear number one issue of concern from the aerospace manufacturers is access to a skilled workforce.”

Hands-on training

The University of Hartford, which already offers mechanical and acoustical engineering degrees, launched the aerospace program this fall.

While it currently only has 13 students — primarily due to a lack of marketing, school officials say — UHart Dean of the College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture Hisham Alnajjar said he hopes to double enrollment next fall and have 100 students in five years.

Current enrollees — seven freshmen, three juniors, two sophomores and one senior — work in a dedicated space in the school’s newly-opened 60,000-square-foot Hursey Center and learn about technical concepts relevant to aerospace engineering and design.

The program’s core focus is on aerodynamics, aerospace materials and structures, aircraft design, flight stability and control, orbital mechanics and propulsion systems.

Unlike some other aerospace engineering programs in the country, University of Hartford students get hands-on experience with some of the major employers in the field.

In fact, Paul Slaboch, a UHart associate professor and director of the aerospace engineering program, in late November took five students on a private tour of Pratt & Whitney’s customer training center.

“Our students saw in person what we talked about in class,” said Slaboch, one of 11 engineering faculty at the school. “We learned, firsthand, how aerodynamics plays a role in the engines [of aircrafts]. This is not something you get with every aerospace program.”

Slaboch, who is in his sixth year at the university having worked previously in research and development for an arm of the state Department of Transportation, said the aerospace industry is having a resurgence of sorts on the commercial side, evidenced by recent treks into space by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and others.

“There is a race on the commercial side for space tourism and more satellite launches,” Slaboch said. “It’s a combination of space and aircraft; those are the two main draws for students. On the airline side, supersonic commercial flights aren’t far away.”

Unlike Yale University and some other institutes of higher learning, University of Hartford graduates tend to stay in the Nutmeg State after graduating — an added bonus for companies like Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky.

Dean Alnajjar said about 60% of UHart students will get jobs in Connecticut after graduating.

Alba Marcelin, 20, is a junior in the school’s aerospace engineering program. She started as a mechanical engineering major then switched to aerospace engineering with hopes of one day being a commercial pilot.

“This program gives me the opportunity to have a better understanding of what is going on in the world of aviation and aerospace,” Marcelin said. “I like the small class size, the attentiveness and the curriculum is a good balance between aviation and the space aspect.”

Marcelin said she’s deciding between two internship opportunities next summer: at GE Aviation or Pratt & Whitney.

Looking ahead, Alnajjar said he sees a bright future for the program and expects there will be increasing demand for it.

“[I want] industries to know that there is a really successful aerospace program at the University of Hartford and that our graduates are top-notch,” he said. “We measure success on our students being recruited and getting good jobs. I hope to see 100 students in the program five years from now.”

Sign up for Enews

Related Content


Order a PDF