Service members and employees onboard Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren can now pursue professional education opportunities at the University of Mary Washington's (UMW's) long-anticipated Dahlgren Center for Education and Research. Regional leaders joined UWM officials and Dahlgren officers for a Feb. 17 ribbon-cutting ceremony highlighting how the campus will shape both the Navy and the local economy going forward.
"Just 17 months ago, to the day, we celebrated the Dahlgren Campus groundbreaking," said Mark Safferstone, executive director of the Dahlgren Campus. "Today's dedication of UMW's third campus is yet another notable occasion. I thank all of you who have been involved in this project and who have contributed to our success."
The Dahlgren Center for Education and Research hosts classes from several institutions of higher learning: George Mason University, the Naval Post Graduate School, the Naval War College, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, Rappahannock Community College and Germanna Community College. The new campus will participate in Virginia's Commonwealth Engineering Graduate Program (CEGP), designed to enhance post-graduate education opportunities for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals. The project also mitigates a lack of advanced science and technology education opportunities in the region surrounding NSF Dahlgren, a shortcoming noted by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission.
The campus solidifies a long-standing relationship between Dahlgren and the UMW that has seen many graduates find employment on the naval installation through the years. UMW's computer science department was established by Dahlgren-based scientists in the late 1970s. Safferstone credited former naval officer and scientist for proposing a satellite campus in Dahlgren nearly 25 years ago and noted that King George County is home to hundreds of UMW alumni.
Though the UMW Dahlgren Campus is focused on serving the education needs of NSF Dahlgren, the campus will serve the region as a whole. "Since construction started last July, the university has conducted studies to understand educational needs and identify potential research initiatives," he said. "We've led many hard hat tours and we've spoken with representatives from base commands, defense contractors, local businesses, federal, state and local government officials and educational institutions."
Bill Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, praised the Dahlgren Campus's for its potential to add more STEM professionals in the Commonwealth. "This facility is going to contribute to the future vitality of the region," he said.
Congressman Rob Wittman thought the Dahlgren Campus would help ensure the region has "the researchers and scientists to do the work of the nation," while also encouraging economic growth. "We talk about jobs and the economy today. This is the basis of jobs and the economy: a robust education system," he said.
The commander of the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC), one of the Dahlgren commands whose workforce stands to benefit from greater access to post-graduate education, praised the effort behind establishing the Dahlgren Campus. "This is truly a landmark day for Dahlgren and the greater region," said Capt. Gary Shoman. "The University of Mary Washington Center for Education and Research is a superb example of our community pulling together: academia, business, local and state governments, Department of Defense, all cooperating to ensure the national security bodies of work in our region are of the highest quality and meet the military objectives of today and into the future."
Local community leaders around Dahlgren saw the Dahlgren Campus as an investment in the future. "It [benefits] more than King George County," said Joe Grzeika, chairman of the King George County . "It benefits our entire region. [Dahlgren] is critical to the defense of the nation and to the region's economy. I see the Dahlgren Campus as a catalyst, not only for academics, but also for research, which I think is critical. That's where we're going to really see a jump start for the economy in this area."
With Department of Defense (DoD) leadership and Congress considering curbs to the growth of military spending, the potential for another BRAC was on the mind of retired Rear Adm. Robert Fountain, chairman of the board of directors for the Virginia National Defense Industrial Authority. "I think having the Dahlgren Campus is going to have a major role in cementing Dahlgren's place in this part of Virginia," he said.
For UMW President Richard Hurley, the Dahlgren Campus is a "living symbol" of the university's commitment to bring together diverse partners and institutions to serve the public. "It's clear we all have a stake in the future success, growth and expansion of this campus."