The University of Texas at San Antonio and Port San Antonio hope to build a talent pool for the future after signing a five-year agreement on Monday that furthers an already budding relationship between the university and the South San Antonio industrial hub.

The organizations will combine capabilities and expertise to build new research programs, educate and train students and researchers, and advance science and technology, the agreement states. It would also allow the institutions to pursue joint funding requests.

The agreement formalizes a plan between the two organizations to collaborate on securing the U.S. supply chain and manufacturing industry from cyberattacks, robotics and automation, data science, and artificial intelligence, among other fields of study.

“This is really to take [our existing partnership] to the next level, and really focus in on what we can do together with the academic capabilities we both bear – which [for us] is essentially our grade-A students,” said Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA’s vice president for research economic development and knowledge enterprise. “If we create a workforce or internship pipeline for UTSA students to go work at the Port in the areas that were just mentioned, there are mutual benefits for [our students] and those companies.”

While the agreement is for the upcoming five years, UTSA and the Port expect to work together in the coming decades as well, said Jim Perschbach, Port San Antonio president and CEO.

“We’re very optimistic that in the months and years to come there’s going to be continuing announcements of areas where we and the university are working together,” Perschbach said.

Perschbach, an Our Lady of the Lake University trustee and member of the engineering advisory team at St. Mary’s University, said the Port is making UTSA its premier academic partner specifically in recognition of its growing research capabilities. As the university edges closer to becoming a top-tier research institute, Port San Antonio wants to continue to work with UTSA students and researchers, Perschbach said.

“What we are looking to do – and what the university is looking to do – is to truly connect and converge the best of San Antonio with the best of Texas [and] with the best of the country,” Perschbach said.

While UTSA and the Port have been working together for the past few years, this formalization of their partnership will allow for new opportunities to collaborate and new experiential learning and teaching opportunities that enable research and development, said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy in a statement released by the university. 

UTSA students have been interning at Port San Antonio companies for years, and the two organizations have co-hosted showcases of new technology, said Paco Felici, the Port’s chief communications officer.

Both UTSA and the Port have made strides this year to grow cybersecurity and IT education in San Antonio. Last month UTSA launched its Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and earlier this year the Port announced its joint efforts with the City of San Antonio and CPS Energy to launch the Alamo Regional Security Operations Center (ARSOC) on the Port’s campus. ARSOC is expected to open in early 2021. 

UTSA is also building its new National Security Collaboration Center set to open in 2022 along with the university’s School of Data Science located at its downtown campus.

“I think the academic programs that we offer [at UTSA] are going to be so attractive to these companies that need the 21st-century-type of skill sets and knowledge, [and that will help bring them] to San Antonio,” Arulanandam said. “So I think I think it’s a true partnership that brings the corporate sector together with the academic programs at UTSA, and it will be a magnet for additional companies that want to come to [San Antonio].”

With so many tech companies moving from California to Texas, now is a great time for this partnership, Arulanandam said.

“This is a way for us to give back to the city with all the innovation we are driving,” Arulanandam said.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...