Colorado is the epicenter for the aerospace and defense economy.
Our state boasts an aerospace industry that generates more than $15 billion in annual output, 33 federally funded labs and every major player in the defense contracting industry. A driving force behind this economy is the University of Colorado system, a leading public research institution with four campuses that are committed to advancing space exploration and national security.
CU Boulder is the No. 1 public university recipient of NASA research awards and is consistently ranked in the Top-10 public for its aerospace programs. Collectively, our campuses have produced 20 current or former astronauts. And every semester, we have more than 5,000 active duty, reserve, honorably discharged or military dependent students enrolled in our four campuses. CU remains committed to serving those who serve, and I am proud of our ongoing efforts to support our men and women in uniform — and their families — attain their educational goals.
Last week, we went further — announcing a partnership with the U.S. Space Force that will expand research opportunities, create more advanced degrees and lead to greater workforce and leadership development for this new and exciting frontier in the space domain.
I was fortunate to be at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus last week for the ceremonial signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson and University of Colorado President Todd Saliman. It was a proud moment for our university and a reminder of the important role that universities can play in advancing space science and workforce development.
We are not alone in this effort. CU joins nine other institutions across the country within the Space Force’s University Partnership Program that will also identify and pursue research areas of mutual interest among member universities, while also establishing scholarships, internships and mentorship opportunities for university students and ROTC cadets.
I was particularly moved by the general’s words when he said: “We need the brightest minds working together in high-performing teams to drive innovative solutions.”
Yes, we do. Colorado ranks No. 1 in aerospace employment concentration with more than 62,000 civilian and military workers in the industry.
Coupled with our world-class research institutions and engineering programs across the state, it is no coincidence that industry and the military sees Colorado as the epicenter for all things aerospace. Space Force continues to build out its footprint across the Front Range with the recent renaming of numerous installations to signify its critical role in defending our nation’s space-based assets. Between Buckley Space Force Base, Peterson Space Force Base (current home of U.S. Space Command), Schriever Space Force Base, Buckley Space Force Base, and Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station, these Colorado-based installations are home to largest concentration of Space Force personnel.
The aerospace ecosystem in Colorado is second to none, and I believe the University Partnership Program will only further reinforce the state’s — and CU’s — leadership within the space domain.
But the partnership — and CU’s commitment to the U.S. military and those who serve in it — means much more to me. It’s been at the core of my work during the 10 years I have served on CU’s board of regents.
My father, Howard C. Sharkey, was part of the greatest generation. He served his country proudly for 31 years in the Air Force. He flew B-17 bombers during World War II as part of the 306th bomb group and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel. At times, his career took him overseas to Japan, Taiwan and Germany.
Stateside, the most significant tour of duty for him took place in Colorado Springs, which was where he chose to retire. And as an Air Force brat who moved around throughout my childhood without a real home, Colorado Springs became my place to call home. So, announcing the partnership at UCCS made this even more special for me.
When my father passed in 1990, I made a promise to do what I could to honor his service. We have a duty to honor these patriots, and I’m pleased to say that Colorado — and CU — is there for them.
Sue Sharkey is the vice chair for the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents and represents the 4th Congressional District on the board.