Micron manassas

Micron Technology has always kept close ties with nearby schools. With plans to nearly double its workforce over the next 12 years as part of a $3 billion expansion at its Manassas facility, the company will see a return on that decades-long investment, while also injecting new financing into the programs that are developing the company’s next generation of employees.

The firm’s expansion, announced Aug. 29, is expected to create 1,100 jobs by 2030, according to Micron officials.

For its investment, Micron will be eligible for state employment grants of $70 million for site preparation and facility costs, subject to approval by the General Assembly. Additionally, Manassas and its utility partners are providing a broader, comprehensive support package to enable the expansion, including substantial infrastructure upgrades and additional incentives, according to a news release.

Among the 140 attendees at the announcement in Manassas were leaders from higher education in Virginia, including Kenneth Ball, dean of Volgenau School of Engineering at George Mason University.

Micron Technology Foundation, which was founded in 1999 as a nonprofit, also announced a $1 million commitment in support of college and university programs in Virginia to educate technicians, scientists and engineers with a focus on women and underrepresented minorities in those fields.

“Diversity has proven to lead to the best results in engineering — from concepts through design and manufacturing — due to the power of multiple perspectives,” Ball said.

Women account for about 20 percent of the engineering workforce in the U.S and underrepresented minorities account for about 4 percent of the workforce, Ball said.

“We really need to work on that,” he said. “Part of the problem, in my opinion, [is] there’s a lot of misperception about what engineers do.”

In 2017, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College announced an agreement called ADVANCE, which helps students transition from the community college to the university. The partnership should lead to more diverse students enrolling in the university, Ball said. The engineering school also does outreach with K-12 public school divisions to help raise awareness of engineering paths. Outreach is important to eliminate misperceptions and to let students know engineering is accessible to them, Ball said.

Less than 5 percent of all U.S. college majors are engineers, Ball said.

“That’s despite 20 years of concerted efforts of STEM outreach,” he added.

Part of the reason students aren’t majoring in engineering is they take biology or chemistry in high school, but fewer take engineering courses, Ball said.

“There is a perception that you have to be brilliant in math and science,” he said. “It’s not something you’re born with; you can be taught. It’s a hands-on curriculum.”

About a mile from Micron’s Manassas plant is George Mason University’s Science and Technology Campus that opened in 1997.

That same year, seven universities and two companies — including George Mason University and Micron — formed the Virginia Microelectronic Consortium to “foster education and research in support of the microelectronics industry” in Virginia, according to the consortium’s website. The consortium’s mission is to foster education, research and development in microelectronics, nanoelectronics and related fields while also providing expert help to assist the semiconductor industry in the state.

Micron offers internships for students through the consortium and sponsors senior capstone projects.

“We actively solicit industrial support for our capstone projects,” Ball said. “[Businesses] support a number of our students’ senior design projects, so our students —when they graduate —have a lot of real experience working on real problems.”

The university has worked closely with Micron for about 21 years, said Ball, and the Micron Technology Foundation has donated funding toward the Science and Technology Center to build labs and lecture space.

“It’s vital for us to have these kinds of facilities, and Micron has played a very important role in supporting George Mason University and the Volgenau School of Engineering in helping to develop these facilities,” Ball said.

The university, which is the largest public research university in Virginia, will be able to continue educating students who could work at Micron, Ball said.

“We support the region and the Commonwealth of Virginia, so we make sure our curriculum is always going to allow our students to be as competitive as possible to find good jobs and that helps everyone,” Ball said.

Third- and fourth-year mechanical engineering students work on challenges that involve materials testing, manufacturing and design at the labs at the Science and Technology Center, said Liza Wilson Durant, professor and associate dean of strategic initiatives and community engagement for the Volgenau School of Engineering.  

“Micron recognizes the power of experiential learning to reinforce theoretical concepts and the importance of real world, hands-on experiences to prepare students for the workplace,” Durant said.

Micron, which was founded 40 years ago, has built a strong base of expertise at the Manassas plant since 2002, said Sanjay Mehrotra, the company’s president and CEO. Currently 1,300 employees work at the location.

The expansion will position the Manassas site as Micron’s Center of Excellence for long-lifecycle memory and will cement the company’s position as one of Virginia’s largest exporters, according to a news release.

As part of the expansion, Micron will establish a global research and development center in Manassas for memory and storage solutions primarily focused on the automotive, industrial and networking markets.The expansion of the initial cleanroom — or industrial-grade facility — is set to be completed by fall 2019, meaning the company expects to see production increase in the first half of 2020, according to a Micron news release.

“Today memory and fast storage are essential in nearly every industry and application that you can imagine, from the smartphone in your pocket, to massive data centers to the smart speakers in connected devices in your home,” Mehrotra said. “And in fact, every facet of our lives, including transportation, healthcare and entertainment, are now employing advanced computing technologies because of the truly remarkable benefits they provide.”

At the Science and Technology Center, students can see the Micron facility, Ball said, noting they might be looking directly at their future.

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