(Grand Forks, ND) -- North Dakota is once again taking the first step on the front of innovation.

The U.S. Space Force announced Monday it's University Partnership Program at the University of North Dakota during a Memorandum of Understanding signing event.

“The Space Force faces some of the toughest challenges in engineering, science, and technology,” said Chief of Space Operations General John W. Raymond. “Space is hard. We need our nation’s brightest minds working to help us tackle these problems. That is why we have established the University Partnership Program to harness the innovation at universities across our country. Today, I’m excited to welcome the University of North Dakota as our first official UPP member, with ten more schools to follow in the coming months.”

The other universities on track to join the partnership in fiscal year ’21 are:

• Georgia Institute of Technology

• Howard University

• Massachusetts Institute of Technology

• North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

• Purdue University

• University of Colorado System (beginning with Boulder and Colorado Springs)

• University of Texas System (beginning with Austin and El Paso)

• University of Southern California

“We are excited for this incredible opportunity to partner with the Space Force in developing students and Guardians into high-tech problem-solvers,” said UND President Andy Armacost. “Students and faculty will apply their expertise to projects vital to the Space Force mission to deliver impactful solutions for increasing efficiency, resiliency and sustainability for space capabilities.”

Universities were selected based on four criteria: the quality of STEM degree offerings and space-related research laboratories and initiatives; a robust ROTC program; a diverse student population; and degrees and programming designed to support military, veterans and their families in pursing higher education.

Signing an MOU is only the first step in defining the partnership. Next, the Space Force will work with UND and each university that follows to outline specific implementation milestones to meet the program’s four main goals.

  1.  Establish opportunities for world-class research, advanced academic degrees, and workforce and leadership development for USSF Guardians
  2.  Identify and pursue research areas of mutual interest with member universities, individually and collectively
  3.  Establish scholarship, internship and mentorship opportunities for university students and ROTC cadets
  4. Recruit and develop diverse officer, enlisted, and civilian Guardians with a particular focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

“Students who participate in the research or development opportunities created through the UPP do not need to become military or civilian Guardians,” said Raymond. “Our nation is depending on the next generations of scientists and engineers to help us solve the most challenging problems across a variety of industries. Any knowledge gained from the Space Force partnership is ultimately for the benefit of our society.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for North Dakota and our nation, as UND’s students will not only have access to better research, education and career opportunities, but our state will be helping in another critical way to secure our country’s interests in space,” said Senator John Hoeven, who was joined by fellow Senator Kevin Cramer too during the signing event. “We’ve worked to build a premiere aerospace and UAS industry in North Dakota, and time and again, we’ve been able to leverage that expertise at UND, our test site and Grand Sky to further grow our technology sector while expanding our state’s role in the nation’s defense.”

The deal between the government agency and college lasts for five years, and can be renewed at any point.