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Signed, sealed, delivered: JSU takes first step to becoming prime federal contractor

Key participants with the NASA Shared Service Center agreement applaud Troy E. Miller for his role in helping Jackson State University secure a spot as a protégé. Miller is a specialist for NASA’s Office of Small Business Programs. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Key participants involved with the NASA Shared Services Center agreement applaud Troy E. Miller for his role in helping Jackson State University secure a spot as a protégé. Miller is a specialist for NASA’s Office of Small Business Programs. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

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JSU made history Thursday when it became the nation’s first HBCU to sign a pact to become a protégé in the NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC) program that will allow the academic institution to learn how to land major government contracts.

Jackson State University’s mentor is Enterprise Services LLC, a prime contractor formerly known as HP. The agreement was witnessed by hundreds packed in the atrium of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET). Ultimately, JSU will become a prime contractor, too.

JSU President William B. Bynum Jr. described the NASA event as a “launching pad that JSU can benefit from significantly.”

Dr. Joseph A. Whittaker signs a deal that eventually will position JSU as a prime federal contractor. The urban institution will be part of a protégé program that provides training from its mentor, Enterprise Services LLC. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Dr. Joseph A. Whittaker, JSU’s associate provost, signs a deal that eventually will position JSU as a prime federal contractor. The urban institution will be part of a NASA protégé program that provides training from its mentor, Enterprise Services LLC. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

“This is without a doubt a historic day. We are doing some outstanding things. There’s nothing like being the first and earning a NASA seal of approval,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, “It means that Jackson State is doing the right things. It means that we acknowledge what our faculty and staff have done.”

Bynum said the partnership will aid in recruitment efforts because “a big part of this program is about getting a lot of internship opportunities for our students. This will let people know that Jackson State University produces an outstanding product and outstanding students and has the capability to work with an organization like NASA. We’re extremely excited about what this means to our students and their future endeavors.”

Tabisa Taliwaku Kalisa, program manager for the NASA Office of Small Business Programs, said her organization would be able to further achieve its mission by including institutions such as JSU.

Kalisa said, “We understand we need HBCUs. … We know that there’s a lot of opportunity and technology that we haven’t thought about. … We’re asking for your help to be able to achieve that. Working with Enterprise Services and other prime contractors helps us add technology to our missions.”

NASA has plans far beyond Earth and is enlisting JSU’s expertise.

“We’re looking at Mars and beyond, and we need your help,” Kalisa said. “We’re looking at your enterprise services, infrastructure and students to be able to help us with our needs.”

She reminded the audience that JSU hosted the NASA Road Tour last year, and “JSU showed us what they can do and what they can bring to the table. … You have the capacity.”

Hundreds gathered to witness the signing of the agreement and learn more about the partnership. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Hundreds gathered to witness the signing of the agreement and learn more about the partnership. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

Kalisa said NASA’s success would be measured by having “more money coming in to Jackson State University and more technology coming out of NASA. We’re trying to find innovative ways to “make it lucrative for prime contractors.”

Dr. Joseph A. Whittaker, associate provost at JSU, said the HBCU is preparing to create its own path. He described the signing ceremony as “the beginning and the foundation for which we move forward; we have come a long way historically. This is one step in the process.”

Whittaker said the agreement would create an environment for JSU to “dream.”

He emphasized that this partnership “goes beyond just leveraging our knowledge and existing capabilities of the university – the technical capital and knowledge capital.”

He said, “The important thing about this is that it’s for everyone. Staff, faculty and students will benefit from these capabilities and the potential skill set that will come from this agreement with Enterprise Services.” However, he said at some point Enterprise will “let us go, and we’re going to take the lead.”

Whittaker added, “As a university, we don’t always think about doing business in a way like our corporate partners. But part of this is to help us to grow in that direction.”

He said all of JSU’s stakeholders will benefit from the partnership. “There are no limits to what we can do.”

Matthew Welsh is vice president of Space and Science at Enterprise Services, which is primarily a government-focused organization that delivers IT solutions and early-transformation technology to customers.

Welsh said, “It’s really an exciting time be in government IT and supporting our public sector. … There are so many transformation opportunities,” including mobile technology that will make the world a better place.

NASA Partnership (Charles A. Smith/University Communications)

JSU President William B. Bynum Jr. is flanked by key players involved in JSU’s historic moment. (Photo by Charles A. Smith/JSU)

He said Enterprise Services supports scientific and IT missions, and he wants to align with the mission of JSU by empowering people and solving real world problems.

“NASA is one of the best customers I’ve had the chance to work with. When you think about the NASA mission and NASA history they really are a bunch of dreamers. … This is absolutely paramount when you talk about academic partnerships. Every student who walks through the doors are really just trying to do the same thing,” Welsh said.

He’s especially excited about bringing the scientific perspective into the academic space and said the success of the partnership with JSU will look like this: providing a robust pipeline of opportunity both from Enterprise Services and JSU.

He said his organization has 14,000 employees and is always looking for people who are highly trained, highly motivated and willing to make difference.

Meanwhile, JSU also recognized Troy E. Miller for his pivotal role in securing a spot for JSU as a protégé in the NASA program. Miller works as a specialist for NASA’s Office of Small Business Programs.

He indicated that establishing the partnership was not easy.

“It’s been a long struggle to get to this point. It started two years ago. We had to do some relationship-building with Enterprise Services and with Jackson State,” Miller said.

Metaphorically, he said the arduous task was not a sprint but a marathon that had finally arrived. He thanked JSU for its “commitment and believing in all of us as a team to get to this point.”

Dr. Mahmoud A. Manzoul, a JSU professor of Electrical and Computing Engineering, serves as the technical point of contact for the partnership. He handled the initial conversation about a possible relationship with NASA two years ago.

“We’re excited about this,” Manzoul said. “This agreement is not limited to our department. It’s for all the other departments in CSET as well as the entire university.”