This semester, students at Wichita State University have become the first in Kansas to put their innovation skills to work in solving real-world national defense challenges as part of the Hacking for Defense (H4D) program, thanks to the FirePoint Innovations Center and WSU’s Masters of Innovation Design program.

H4D, a program of the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), is a semester-long course offered only at select, top-tier universities across the country that provides students the opportunity to work directly with Department of Defense (DoD) agencies in an applied learning environment. “Problem sponsors” from the DoD and intelligence community present technology challenges to student teams who then rapidly develop, iterate and test solutions using an agile, tech-startup-style approach, ultimately aiming to deliver a viable product to the problem sponsor.

In the process, students gain creative problem solving and technical skills in an immersive learning experience, along with professional networking and exposure to potential career opportunities within the defense and national security sectors.

“Applied learning opportunities are critical for enabling students to gain the kind of real-world experience that they can’t get in the classroom,” said John Tomblin, WSU Senior Vice President for Industry and Defense Programs. “This kind of professional experience is one of the things that sets WSU apart and gives our students a competitive edge in the job market.”

For DoD and intelligence agencies, H4D serves as a force multiplier, allowing them to tap into outside resources to gain a new perspective and accelerate mission-critical problem solving. In the process, DoD program sponsors also gain access to a pipeline of talented and much-needed STEM students to help address future workforce needs. Since it first launched in 2016, H4D has resulted in 18 funded solutions and nine new business startups.

“We’re thrilled to be able to bring this truly unique program to the students here at Wichita State,” said Steve Cyrus, Executive Director with FirePoint. “This is a perfect fit for exactly the type of work we do—building partnerships to bring nontraditional sources of innovation to DoD—so it’s another arrow in our quiver for technological development. But it’s also expanding the culture of DoD collaboration and innovation we’re building here on the Wichita State University campus.”

To bring H4D to Wichita State, FirePoint leveraged its extensive partnerships with not only NSIN, but also the U.S. Army DEVCOM Aviation and Missile Center, Army Futures Command and the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), also located at Wichita State. Cyrus says because of the significant and growing defense-related R&D resources available on the Wichita State campus, the university is uniquely qualified to offer students an outstanding H4D experience.

“We’re building a strong center of mass for DoD problem solving and innovation, which is raising the profile of our programs within the national security and intelligence communities and with potential students and employers,” Cyrus said. “This is a big win for the Army, NSIN and the Wichita State community.”

H4D is open to students in any academic discipline, and FirePoint plans to continue the course in both the fall and spring semesters going forward. To learn more, view the syllabus here.

To learn more about FirePoint, visit www.firepoint.info.