An aerial view of Brickell Key in Miami Florida

Innovation Hubs Bridge Capabilities Across Key U.S. Technology Markets

By Aishia Caryn Freeman , Karina Wright

Innovation knows no boundaries. Neither does talent. That’s why MITRE is connecting with U.S. technology centers and introducing innovation hubs, or iHubs, to engage regional universities, industry, and nonprofits to take on big societal challenges.

Above: The employees at our Miami iHub work in areas as diverse as cybersecurity, healthcare, and national security, as well as performing STEM outreach.

MITRE is known for tackling boundaryless challenges in national security, cyberspace, aviation, health, and more. We discover solutions to national and global problems by taking a multi-disciplinary approach, convening stakeholders, and sharing knowledge.

With the launch of our innovation hubs, or iHubs, we’re applying this same approach to building strategic collaborations with public and private partners across the country. Our primary goal: accelerate innovation for public impact.

iHubs are regionally based, concentrated areas of expertise and industry designed to expand, engage, and develop diverse talent, create new strategic partnerships, enhance community engagement, accelerate technical capabilities, and identify new markets and opportunities.

Our iHubs widen and deepen our collaboration with regional schools, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), start-ups, nonprofits, laboratories, and industry to solve complex challenges and increase our impact on issues facing our country and the world.

In each iHub, we’re creating an end-to-end connection, including inspiring K-12 students—the next generation of science and technology professionals.

“At MITRE, we’re focused on finding solutions to problems that stand in the way of our nation’s safety and security, and we can only do that if we’re building a culture made of the best, most diverse talent,” says Julie Gravallese, MITRE vice president for workplace innovation.

“While we have dual headquarters outside of Washington, DC, and Boston and over 55 U.S. sites, our philosophy is that innovation sits at the intersection of inclusion, diversity, and belonging—and talent is everywhere,” adds Gravallese.

“The way we work is changing, creating new, blended models of remote and onsite work. It makes sense to bring opportunities closer to the talent.”

Our first six iHubs include Huntsville, Ala., Miami, Fla., Atlanta, Ga., Colorado Springs, Colo., Hampton Roads, Va., and Austin, Texas. They’re already making a difference.

An Ecosystem of Talent

Our Huntsville iHub is building on MITRE’s longtime work delivering solutions for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Justice, and regional public health entities.

“From national security to space and beyond, we’re passionate about creating mutually beneficial partnerships with the academic and industry communities that add value to the critical mission landscape in this region,” says Huntsville iHub site lead Kim Shepard.

“We’re exploring relationships and collaboration opportunities, including a new biosecurity initiative with the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH),” adds Shepard. UAH is one of the nation's premier research universities.

Other developing partnerships include Alabama Department of Public Health, NASA, COLSA, Auburn University, and Alabama A&M University.

The iHub hired nine high school and four college interns this summer, and they recently hosted students from the National Defense Education Program at Alabama A&M University to build interest in defense careers. MITRE will continue its support for this program in 2022.

The iHub also teamed with MIT Lincoln Laboratory to establish a local version of the Beaver Works Summer Institute this year. “MITRE staff mentored the high school student team and provided space to demonstrate their autonomous vehicles,” Shepard says.

At MITRE, we’re focused on finding solutions to problems that stand in the way of our nation’s safety and security, and we can only do that if we’re building a culture made of the best, most diverse talent.

Julie Gravallese, MITRE vice president for workplace innovation

Combining Forces for Public Good

Experts within the Miami iHub, including strategic academic partner Florida International University (FIU), perform joint R&D on cyber, artificial intelligence and machine learning, digital health, protecting personal data, and enabling safe operations in air and space. Combined, these partners provide capabilities to the U.S. Southern Command and other Department of Defense sponsors.

Building on that solid partnership, FIU enlisted MITRE’s expertise to conduct outreach to help the city’s Haitian community overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

“A combination of factors contributes to widespread misinformation and vaccine hesitancy—language barriers, cultural beliefs, lack of transportation, poverty, low health literacy, and hard-to-navigate online systems,” says Denise Scannell, MITRE’s chief scientist for health communication science, who led the effort.

Low digital literacy and lack of broadband internet access in Miami’s Little Haiti community made registering for a vaccine appointment online even more difficult.

Scannell and her team worked with FIU, local religious leaders, and community health workers to leverage the communication vehicles most used by the communities they hope to reach. They pinpointed church services, WhatsApp, public service announcements via radio, email, and community vaccine events as the most effective ways to share vaccine information and make appointments. Church groups also used SQUINT™, a MITRE-created app that uses crowdsourced reporting to spot social media posts featuring incorrect and misleading information.

Our Miami iHub has also been working to bring STEM education opportunities to the community. With FIU and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the iHub conducted a STEM summer boot camp, providing a series of hands-on sessions for area high school students.

Our partnerships extend to HBCUs Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach and Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, as well as Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and Edward Waters University in Jacksonville.

Transforming the Way We Work

Work at other iHubs includes infectious disease transmission studies and autonomous system research.

As the coronavirus pandemic intensified, MITRE’s Colorado Springs iHub conducted research to understand the risk of airborne particle transmission while riding on school and public buses. The findings informed safety protocols for all public transportation systems.

At our Austin iHub, MITRE Mobile Autonomous Systems Experimentation Laboratory is partnering with the nonprofit Autonomy Institute to advance self-directed system deployment, from drones to self-driving vehicles.

On the education front, Austin iHub site lead Bobby Blount has been building STEM and cyber partnerships in the neighboring San Antonio area for years. The annual MITRE- and Air Force-sponsored Texas Solar Race Car event engages and inspires 1,300 students in 90 area schools each year. And the MITRE-University of Texas at San Antonio cybersecurity partnership is building a diverse pipeline of cyber experts.

Blount and his team are strengthening partnerships with universities, schools, and community foundations to further channel and connect the talent and resources across the broader region.

These types of partnerships are just the beginning of new ways to meet national and global needs—by plugging into tech ecosystems and connecting with people where they live, work, and study.

“Our goal is to support an agile and innovative workforce, extending our culture of speed, risk-taking, adaptability, collaboration, grace, and respect to new areas and audiences,” says Gravallese.

“It’s less about where we’re based and more about who we are and how we work together to carry out our mission of solving problems for a safer world.”

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