PABLO - An educational partnership agreement announced Wednesday morning between the Naval Undersea Warfare Center of Newport, R.I., and Salish Kootenai College here seemed to kill a lot more than two birds with one stone.

At its most basic level, the agreement will provide internships for SKC students who will assist with research and development of digital acoustic sensor technology at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

But that's just the start.

It should also help the college recruit science, technology, engineering and mathematics students to its campus who can take advantage of the opportunity.

It will fund sabbaticals for SKC faculty members so that they can participate in the research.

That will help Luana Ross, first-year president of SKC, steer the tribal college in the "research institution" direction she is pursuing.

And the CEO who helped broker the agreement says the tribally owned company he runs benefits as well.

In fact, Alex Philp, president and CEO of TerraEchos Inc., which is located in Missoula, says other tribal businesses such as S&K Technologies and S&K Electronics - plus a host of other non-tribal Montana high-tech companies - stand to gain from a highly trained local work force.

"Yes, it's self-serving," Philp says. "With the kind of problems we're working on, unless we make investments in education, we're stuck. We can't grow."

It's the Naval Undersea Warfare Center's first-ever educational partnership agreement with a tribal college.

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So what's this "digital acoustic sensor technology" SKC faculty and students will soon be immersed in?

Much of the work is classified. Perhaps it is best explained by looking at how TerraEchos is further developing and commercializing some of the technology with the Navy's permission.

Essentially, according to David Sanders of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center's Public Affairs Office, TerraEchos is licensed to transform Navy-developed technology for submarines into technology that can be used to provide security for potential terrorist targets.

"Things like oil and gas refineries, nuclear reactors, dams," Philp explains. "We bury fiber-optic cable into the ground around such facilities for two, three, five miles, whatever it takes. Then we hook it up to a sophisticated laser system that shoots light down the fiber."

Anything that crosses over the fiber-optic cable, whether it walks, crawls, drives or flies, can then be detected and classified.

"The magic comes in putting the light in, measuring distortions to it and converting it into audio in real time," Philp says.

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Salish Kootenai College joins a handful of other colleges and universities, such as the University of Massachusetts, the University of Rhode Island and North Carolina A&T, with similar agreements with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

"There's a lot of upside for SKC," Philp says. "It opens up a world of opportunity where they can build a relationship and track record, and compete for research money for national security projects."

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