Virginia Tech is a founding member of an 11-university network spanning the U.S. and Japan that has partnered with Micron Technology Inc. and the U.S. National Science Foundation to cultivate a more diverse and robust talent pipeline for the semiconductor workforce.

Boise, Idaho-based Micron announced the partnership, known as UPWARDS for the Future, on May 21, at the edge of the 2023 G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan. Together, Micron, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and the university partners will invest $50 million to launch the initiative. UPWARDS for the future is designed to deepen ties between industry and higher education, promote industry-backed curriculums, and advance collaborative semiconductor memory research. The initiative is projected to involve 5,000 students over five years, with an emphasis on engaging women in engineering.

“Virginia Tech is proud to partner with Micron and leading U.S. and Japanese universities to support economic innovation by advancing growth and diversity in the semiconductor workforce,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said. “Our top-ranked electrical and computer engineering department is educating the next generation of engineers with 10 specialized areas of study including a major in chip-scale integration. UPWARDS for the Future is aligned with Virginia Tech’s commitment to increase diversity in STEM education by fostering inclusion and success for women and individuals from underrepresented and underserved communities. This creative partnership will keep Micron and Virginia Tech at the forefront in meeting the nation’s critical need for talented, innovative engineers with a global perspective.”

Along with Virginia Tech, partner universities in the UPWARDS for the Future initiative from the U.S. are Boise State, Purdue, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of Washington. Partner universities from Japan are Hiroshima University, Kyushu University, Nagoya University, Tohoku University, and Tokyo Institute of Technology.

According to Micron, the founding universities were selected “for the work they have done to close the gender equity gap in STEM by fostering diversity, building inclusive career pathways for their students, and promoting equality in leadership roles with the appointments of female deans and presidents.”

“Along with Micron, the National Science Foundation, and partner universities in the U.S. and Japan, we recognize the critical need for expertise in semiconductors,” said Julie Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering at Virginia Tech. “We are ready to step forward to add to this partnership with research, state-of-the-art facilities, innovative teaching, and faculty support for initiatives that increase semiconductor development and manufacturing.”

The UPWARDS for the Future initiative is in line with a major push at Virginia Tech to help fill a domestic gap in the pipeline for skilled labor in semiconductor technology. In the U.S. alone, companies are projected to face a shortfall of 300,000 engineers and nearly 90,000 skilled technicians by 2030, according to McKinsey and Company.

Virginia Tech’s pioneering Chip-Scale Integration Program is one of 14 majors in electrical engineering and computer engineering that resulted from an ambitious National Science Foundation Revolutionizing Engineering Departments Grant. The program caters to students who are seeking to harness innovative advances in integrated digital and analog electronics to add greater functionality, improve performance, minimize power consumption, and expand applications.

More recent Virginia Tech partnerships to bolster the university’s leading work in semiconductors include a GO Virginia award of $3.3 million to establish the Virginia Alliance for Semiconductor Technology and founding membership in the Northeast University Semiconductor Network.

“We’re excited about this opportunity because we are not only going to change the world and make other people’s lives better, but we also get to provide our students with that same opportunity through experiential learning,” said Luke Lester, the Roanoke Electric Steel Professor and head of the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. “They get to be part of this national priority to become more globally competitive in the semiconductor space.”

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