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For many generations, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs have provided students a means to pay for higher education and a path toward a military career once students are commissioned as officers into their respective branches upon graduation.

Now, students participating in these programs will have a further chance to prepare for life after graduation thanks to a new program being launched by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Kennesaw State University, in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research.

The new offering, “Cybersecurity, data analytics, and advanced manufacturing for the modern soldier: An integrated ROTC research and training program,” will help officer candidates get a more in-depth approach to and experience with STEM-related fields, something seen as a benefit to the students and a necessity for national security.

Professor Tony Schmitz
Professor Tony Schmitz

“We will be training future soldiers to have a broader understanding of cybersecurity, data analytics, and manufacturing processes,” said UT Professor Tony Schmitz, of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering (MABE). “We anticipate this will increase their effectiveness as they proceed in their military careers.”

While the funding is coming from the Navy, the program is open to ROTC students of all military branches, with the goal of eventually having 15 students at each institution taking part in the program.

At UT, the focus will be on cybersecurity as it relates to advanced manufacturing and advanced materials, while Kennesaw State will offer training and education in data science, cybersecurity, and research methods.

Assistant Professor Brett Compton
Assistant Professor Brett Compton

Students at each university will have the chance to work remotely on coursework at the other partner institution. Schmitz and MABE Assistant Professor Brett Compton will serve as the lead at UT, while Executive Director of the Analytics and Data Science Institute Jennifer Priestley and Executive Director of the Center for Information Security Education Mike Whitman are the leads at Kennesaw State.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for two of our region’s leading cybersecurity and data science institutions to join together in an effort that not only generates a more well-rounded ROTC graduate, but also impacts our nation’s security and that of our manufacturing industry,” Priestley said. “I very much look forward to our future collaborations and successes to be had.”

Once classes begin, initial work and training will be completed online at the student’s own pacing. Follow-up time in the lab will give them a better understanding of material properties and designs, setting them up for future design and modelling opportunities.

Students will also be able to tour the state-of-the-art facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility as part of the program.

Priestley and Schmitz had previously collaborated on a separate proposal, and were connected after UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair of Advanced Manufacturing Professor Suresh Babu had visited Priestley at Kennesaw State.

UT’s Air Force ROTC Commander Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Castillo said the advantages of the program were clear.

“Within the current and expected national security environment, I believe all future officers—regardless of specific specialties—can benefit from an increased understanding of cyber, data analytics, and advanced manufacturing, all areas included in this program,” said Castillo. “This is an incredible opportunity to receive structured training, practical hands-on experience and to participate in research on real issues that impact our national defense and war-fighting capabilities. I highly recommend this program to those cadets able to add this on top of their academic progression and believe the experience will provide a foundation from which they will rely upon in the future.”

Schmitz acknowledged UT Associate Vice Chancellor for Strategic Research Initiatives Bruce LaMattina for helping the project, calling him a “champion for veterans and ROTC,” and crediting him for getting the ball rolling on the idea.


David Goddard (865-974-0683,