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AFRL’s Minority Leaders Program pursues further expansion

  • Published
  • By Jeremy Dunn
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

For nearly two decades, the Minority Leaders – Research Collaboration Program, or ML-RCP, has expanded the research capabilities of several academic institutions. The ML-RCP is the largest research initiative of its kind in the Department of the Air Force, with 40 university participants and 32 research efforts across AFRL, with more added continually. 

The ML-RCP aims to enable research partnerships between AFRL, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HCBUs and Minority Serving Institutions, or MSIs, appealing to a diverse collection of scientists and engineers in addressing foundational research challenges in support of the nation’s air, space and cyberspace technology needs. The program works to inform students about AFRL, inviting them to work within the Department of Defense, or DOD. The ML-RCP has awarded over 200 student internships between 2013 and 2022.

“We want to work with a diverse pool of talent that is addressing the challenges that we have here in the Air Force,” said Asheley Blackford, RCP program manager for AFRL. “With that, we've had HBCUs and MSIs involved in this program to help meet that mission. We bring in students to work on-site with our AFRL research scientists and engineers. Having an opportunity to experience working in a laboratory is crucial to understanding the benefits of a DOD career.”

The program focuses on several HBCUs, emphasizing faculty and student partnerships and internships in several AFRL research areas. Through cooperative research efforts with AFRL, the program intends to expand the research capabilities of HBCUs and MSIs. The program also offers summer internships to augment the recruitment pipeline developing and training the next generation of leaders in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

“I think the greatest success story is the robustness of the program,” said Lina Lange, program administrator at ML-RCP. “It’s good that they're reaching out to [HBCUs]. Same with the schools where they're learning more about the government side of doing business, and they're getting more comfortable with it. For [students], it is very exciting to work with the prestigious scientists and engineers at AFRL.”

Students in the program work with AFRL research associates on projects throughout the academic year and are employed by AFRL under summer internship programs. Members can access specialized research equipment and laboratory space to engage in ongoing research with their mentors. 

Benefits of institutions working with the ML-RCP include opportunities for students to work on cutting-edge research that aligns with DOD critical technology areas and joint program initiatives. As a result, ML-RCP is seeing its capacity building at the HBCUs and MSIs, along with more students pursuing their undergraduate and graduate STEM degrees.

“The students are working with their AFRL research mentors and their faculty on research efforts that directly align to senior projects, theses and dissertations,” Blackford said. “They are developing these relationships with our subject matter experts here at AFRL and then we bring students on base in the summer to do an expansion or continuation of that research that they have been working on throughout the year.”

Program leadership and personnel emphasize creating long-lasting relationships with academic institutions. In addition, they want to expand the knowledge of the program between the institutions and AFRL researchers and want to see the ML-RCP continue to emerge as a flagship program for AFRL. 

“I would love to see all of the HBCUs and all the MSIs as members in the program so that they are able to compete for opportunities that we have through the program,” Blackford said,

ML-RCP publishes Project Opportunity Announcements which provide information for institutions to propose against requirements across AFRL that can lead to a one to two-year cooperative agreement if the university or college’s proposal is selected for award. The efforts emphasize faculty and student partnerships and make provisions for summer internships for students to work on-site at AFRL locations.  

For additional information about the ML-RCP, including information on becoming a member and exploring project opportunities, visit

About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit