Onshoring semiconductor manufacturing and ensuring the nation’s supply of these vital components is going to take a creative, all-hands-on-deck approach.

Many of those critical hands were present as 150 leaders from higher education, industry, and government - including Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner - converged to discuss the group effort needed for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States to lead in this area during the CHIPS for Virginia Summit on July 18.

“When you look around this room, what you see is the future,” Youngkin said. “The future in academic research and collaboration. The future in industry capabilities. And the future of local, state, and federal government in order to bring together all of the elements in an ecosystem that are required for us to not just win, but set the international standard for what a semiconductors industry can be and will be.”

Hosted by Virginia Tech in collaboration with Northrop Grumman Corp. at its headquarters in Falls Church, the summit featured experts discussing a wide range of topics including industry needs, supply chain demands, national security, and workforce development.  

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“Our country is investing in the semiconductor industry ... and it is an exciting time to think of the role the commonwealth can play,” said Kathy Warden, chair, chief executive officer, and president of Northrop Grumman. “We have been partnering with Virginia Tech and many of the colleges and universities that are represented today, and we want to continue that partnership because it’s only through partnership with government, academia, and industry that we can create the tech talent pipeline that we need to continue to fuel both innovation and to secure our nation’s future.”

Such collaboration was highlighted by the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the Virginia Alliance for Semiconductor Technology (VAST). The Virginia Tech-anchored initiative unites higher education, government, and industry to create a statewide network of semiconductor-related expertise that will advance research, capitalize on economic opportunities, and cultivate a robust and diverse workforce.

“None of us can do it alone and, for me, this has been the foundation for orchestrating the formation of the Virginia Alliance for Semiconductor Technology or VAST,” said Masoud Agah, VAST’s founding director and the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium Professor of Engineering at Virginia Tech. “If there is a group of leaders positioned to help shape the future of semiconductor technology in Virginia, it is the esteemed group of stakeholders gathered here today.”

VAST comes at a critical time and will capitalize on the federal CHIPS and Science Act, which passed in fall 2022 with the aim of energizing semiconductor production in the United States. 

“If you look back to the mid-'90s, the United States dominated the semiconductor industry. About 37 percent of all chips were made in America at that point. Today it’s down to about 12 percent,” said Warner, who introduced the CHIPS and Science Act with Sen. John Cornyn in 2020. “This VAST partnership is so terribly, terribly important.”

Launched with the help of a $3.3 million Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grant and announced in April, the alliance will be headquartered at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington and will include nodes at George Mason University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Norfolk State University, and community colleges across the state while also working with Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus. It will benefit from partnerships with a range of state and local organizations, including the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. And it will utilize support from industry, which was led by Micron Technology Inc.’s initial monetary commitment and includes companies such as BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman.

“We envision the alliance as a platform for future programs that benefit our partners and Virginia’s semiconductor industry by attracting federal funding and private sector investment, growing a robust semiconductor startup and innovation ecosystem, and developing internship, scholarship, fellowship, and apprenticeship opportunities in semiconductor and related fields for Virginia students,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands.

A conversation between Virginia Tech President Tim Sands (right) and Kathy Warden, (center) , was moderated by Roshan Roeder, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Defense Systems sector, during the CHIPS for Virginia Summit. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman.

People sitting on a stage talking.
(From left) Roshan Roeder, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman's defense systems sector, moderates a conversation with Kathy Warden, chair, chief executive officer, and president of Northrop Grumman, and Virginia Tech President Tim Sands during the CHIPS for Virginia Summit. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman.

The CHIPS for Virginia Summit and VAST build on Virginia Tech’s recent success in this field. From the semiconductor chip-scale integration major for undergraduate students to the search for low-cost, low-consumption semiconducting materials and the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus’ efforts to increasing access to Master of Engineering programs, the university is doing its part to ensure that students are ready to enter the workforce and move the needle on semiconductor development in the commonwealth and beyond.

Virginia Tech also was named one of 21 founding member institutions of the Micron-formed Northeast University Semiconductor Network and part a founding member of an 11-university network that spans the U.S. and Japan.

Todd Stottlemyer, board vice chair of GO Virginia, said the collaborative nature of VAST was a major reason it earned the support of the bipartisan, business-led economic development initiative. 

“We would not have funded the grant, quite frankly, if not for Dr. Sands and Virginia Tech being the hub and having nodes at other universities as part of the partnership,” Stottlemyer said. “I don’t think you could find a more collaborative person or partner than Dr. Sands and Virginia Tech. Whenever he does something he says, ‘Virginia Tech and who else should be a part of collaboration’ and I think that’s very, very important.”

Along with multisector collaboration, another key component of VAST is an adult learning program for continuing professional development, Fast Track to Semiconductor Careers. The 10-week, certificate-based program will enroll about 300 students per year, which is a preference given to U.S. military veterans and underrepresented populations. The program aims to train a total of 600 adult learners, award 550 certificates, and create 100 internships during the full two-year grant.

Kevin Crofton, a 1983 Virginia Tech graduate with more than 30 years of experience leading companies and partnerships in the semiconductor industry, said the industry really has two needs — research and development and access to talent. He believes both are opportunities for the newly established alliance to greatly impact the state. 

“The member universities in VAST have an opportunity to satisfy some of those needs in a big way and as such, represent a draw for companies to come to Virginia Tech,” said Crofton, the namesake of Virginia Tech’s Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. “It’s as simple as that.”

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