Students take on real-world challenges for the Army, Air Force


How do you land a helicopter safely in an urban area or improve medical evacuations? These are the kinds of real-world situations that the University of Hawaii at Mānoa College of Engineering, students tackled each other while working with the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division and US Air Force 15th Wing at Hickam Air Force Base, gaining hands-on experience, while preparing for potential internships and careers.

The fall 2022 engineering course is part of the Hacking for Defense program, part of a new initiative called the National Security Innovation Network, hosted in uhOffice of Innovation and Commercialization. About twenty students are working on the following issues, related to helicopter safety and the consolidated training of airmen:

  • Improve safety equipment used during medical evacuation missions to make them safer for the rescued person as well as the crew working on the rescue mission.
  • Make helicopter landings safer for dense urban environments, as people on the ground often rush towards the helicopter, endangering both the crew and the local population.
  • Consolidate training and certification for airman readiness.

“The first thing students should gain is real-world experience in problem solving. We say this course is about problem solving and not about the problem assigned to you,” said Jeff Hui, uh Hacking for Defense instructor from Mānoa. “The real-world aspect is also important, because the course is an internship. Students can develop their professional skills, such as communication, stakeholder management, project management, etc.”

Students receive a dedicated sponsor from the Department of Defense and a dedicated mentor from Booz Allen Hamilton. Last semester, six students converted those relationships into summer internships with the two organizations, according to Hui. He also added that students learn the Lean Startup methodology, which he has used in his 20 years working in technology and startups.

Related uh New story on the lean startup methodology:

Spring 2022 success

five people standing next to each other
Lightning Academy platoon leader 1LT Colin Stone and the students of the Spring 2022 Hacking for Defense course. (Photo credit: US Army)

The partnership between uh and the 25th Infantry Division launched in the spring when five uh Mānoa students from the Hacking for Defense course tackled another problem presented by the US military: figuring out how to recharge solar-powered equipment in the dense jungle canopy of the Indo-Pacific region. The students were Allen Lum, Hangbo Zhang, Joshua Tritt, Gaila Galano and Caleb Muller from the College of Engineering and the Department of Information and Computer Science.

-By Marc Arakaki


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