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Enduring Partnership

SWOSU and Aerospace

At Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU), aerospace and defense workforce development are nothing new. They are part of the very fabric of the university and have become an integral part of the college’s continued growth in innovation.

There From the Beginning

SWOSU’s rich history of engagement with the aerospace community dates back to J.R. Pratt, a physics professor who taught from 1928 to 1964. When President Eisenhower created NASA in 1958 and designated Houston as the home of Mission Control, Pratt saw an opportunity for his students to not only put their degrees to good use but also make an impact on the burgeoning space race. Under his guidance and encouragement, SWOSU sent more than 20 graduates from Weatherford to NASA and mission control. In the 1960s, dozens of graduates went to work at NASA on the Gemini and Apollo programs, including Apollo 12 and 13, while the Space Shuttle and ISS programs of the 1980s recruited even more. Famous alumni also include John Aaron and Tom Weichel, SWOSU graduates credited with saving Apollo 13, and Ron Toelle, who, along with many other SWOSU graduates, was a member of the design team that developed the Saturn 5 Rocket, Skylab, and the Space Shuttle. 

SWOSU continues to send a steady stream of graduates into the aerospace and aviation industries; locally, Tinker Air Force Base and Boeing are consistently the largest employers of SWOSU graduates.

The Legacy of General Stafford

Retired General Thomas P. Stafford's efforts and support, in particular, have helped nurture SWOSU's position as a vanguard of talent development for the aerospace and defense workforce development fields. Born and raised right here in Weatherford, Gen. Stafford graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1952. After success as a test pilot, he went on to pilot Gemini VI, which was critical in cementing America’s future missions to the moon, then commanded the Gemini IX and Apollo X space missions. He would eventually become the first astronaut promoted to general and the first general to fly in space.

Although he did not receive his degree from SWOSU—though he was awarded the college's first Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2015—the university has and continues to benefit from Gen. Stafford’s commitment to expanding and promoting opportunities in the aerospace sphere. The Stafford Scholars Program, which he and the college established in 1992 as an experiential learning initiative, is now SWOSU's largest individual endowment and has evolved into a collaborative partnership between SWOSU and the Stafford Air & Space Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate institution just minutes from campus. This partnership provides students from all backgrounds and degree concentrations with a uniquely immersive experience in which they interact directly with museum personnel and stakeholders, including astronauts and industry experts, learning to curate exhibits, preserve historical documents, and expand their perspective on careers in air and space.

Most recently, Gen. Stafford dedicated his historical archives to the university’s Al Harris Library, further cementing SWOSU as a regional center for aerospace research and study and putting access to invaluable resources directly in the hands of our students.

List of Partners

  • NASA – Nick Rymer (Langley Research Center)
  • NORDAM – Derek Lawrence
  • Boeing – Jacob Mason, Alex Scarborough, Larry Long, Brandon Wrobble, Margaret Musser Baldwin, Matt Wiley
  • United States Space Force – Amanda Shepherd-Bond (Adney)
  • FAA – Katrina Avers
  • Aerostructures
  • Bell Textron
  • Delaware Resource Group – Brian Busey, Philip Busey
  • General Dynamics
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Orizon
  • Rockwell International
  • United States Air Force
  • Tinker Air Force Base – Cameron Cinnamon, Ian Ray
  • Kennedy Space Center
  • Howmet Aerospace - Abraham Downing