SUU In View (Alumni Magazine - Spring 2002)
THE NEW INTEGRATED ENGINEERING BACCALAUREATE PROGRAM PUTS SUU ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF EDUCATION AND INDUSTRY
At the new year's orientation meetings for SUU employees last August, President Steven D. Bennion quoted a leading educator to illustrate the direction in which some of the fields of higher education are heading: "Discoveries are being made more often on the boundaries where disciplines overlap, rather than in the center of specific disciplines."
That is exactly the philosophy at the foundation of SUU's newest bachelor's degree program in Integrated Engineering (IE). For more than 50 years, SUU has offered a strong and high-quality pre-engineering program and many graduates have gone on to pursue very successful engineering careers. But now, SUU engineering students can complete a four-year engineering degree right here, right now.
IE is an example of a professional-track degree program that provides solid higher-education training in the fundamental principles of the main branches of engineering. The IE program was developed to meet specific needs of an industry already well in place in the Utah economy: that is, small manufacturing. This industry is growing and has a dire need; a need which SUU's IE program plans to directly fulfill.
Small manufacturers-companies with 500 employees or less-make up more than 90 percent of the manufacturing industry in Utah. Moreover, 90 percent of all manufacturers have 20 or fewer engineers on staff.
In the past several years, 100 percent of the growth in Utah industries has been in small manufacturing, according to David Sorensen, executive director of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) in Orem, a national non-profit organization that offers consulting to small and medium-sized manufacturers. And, in many cases, 80-90 percent of the work of large manufacturers is subcontracted out to small manufacturers. For example, Metalcraft in Cedar City, with about 260 employees, makes metal components for Boeing. "These smaller companies," Sorensen says, "provide the critical infrastructure for the large ones to exist in a very competitive market.
"Boeing has 110 specific engineering disciplines involved in aircraft design. Most small manufacturers don't even have 100 employees. The point being, small companies need employees with much broader skills."
Historically, most engineers spend the greater portion of their career working in areas outside their specialization. And, in fact, most on-the-job problems need to be tackled using techniques from a broad base of engineering knowledge. "To design an automobile," Dr. Desmond Penny, professor of physics, and physical sciences department chair, explains, "you need a mechanical engineer to do the drive shaft with wheels; a civil engineer to make the frame stiff enough to support loads; and an electrical engineer to make sure there are no shorts.
"Indeed, a large company has the resources to have specialists in each of these areas on staff," Penny pauses, and then reveals his point, "but a small one does not. Smaller firms typically cannot afford to employ a fleet of engineers, each with a specialized skill."
Thus, the founding purpose of SUU's IE program-to empower the student to be marketable for the job market of the 21st century by being able to undertake real-world problems with encompassing skills. "We will produce an interdisciplinary engineering generalist," Dr. Idir Azouz, associate professor of engineering, says, "who will deal with most smaller companies' engineering challenges, limiting the expenses of specialists.
"We know two things for sure," Azouz continues. "Small businesses benefit tremendously from engineers with broad, not specialized knowledge. Also, an educational program's sensitivity to the needs and requirements of industry is sometimes the best judge of a program's soundness and relevance."
With the previous absence of such a higher educational program available in the state, SUU's enterprise in this area puts its program on the cutting edge of this field of education, and thus, SUU engineering graduates on the cutting edge of industry.
"This is such an important initiative for the University," President Bennion says. "We worked on this proposed degree for more than a year-visiting other campuses which offer such a program, undertaking surveys, planning for funding and more."
One of the main tools in developing SUU's IE was the conducting of a comprehensive survey of the industry to identify its needs. Throughout Utah and parts of Colorado, Nevada and Arizona, 119 manufacturers were contacted, and 95 percent encouraged the implementation of the IE program at SUU.
Research efforts in the developing IE also called upon advisement from fellow institutions in the state, like USU, BYU and the University of Utah. "IE is meeting a great need in Utah, yet not competing directly with our fellow schools, like USU," Penny explains. USU, the University of Utah and BYU are all behind SUU's IE. In the week following approval of the IE by the Board of Regents, faculty from USU and the University of Utah visited SUU and collaborated with engineering faculty, largely on articulation issues. One principle that has remained paramount in the design of IE has been the preservation of easy transition for any pre-engineering students who desire to transfer to the specialized engineering or graduate programs at the University of Utah or USU.
The other very important party surveyed on the need for an IE program was students. At the college level, overwhelming interest was found in pre-engineering students from SUU, and from Weber State University, Dixie State College, Snow College, the College of Eastern Utah and Salt Lake Community College. Faculty from these institutions equally endorsed the need and implementation of the SUU IE.
Students from 16 high schools were surveyed. Fifty percent of the students interested had been leaning toward non-engineering programs before learning about the IE program.
And, finally, a number of current technical employees have expressed a desire to further their education in the IE program. For instance, Integrated Process Systems, in Cedar City, which makes electronic modules for the process industry, states that 60-70 percent of its techs would be interested in enrolling in IE.
Before the IE program was incorporated, the only next logical step for a returning junior engineering student was to transfer to the University of Utah or USU to complete a bachelor's degree in a specialized field. But now, SUUans can continue and complete their degree right here! Bridget Paris, a junior from Ely, Nev., was going to take the civil pre-engineering route, but now that she can carry through in a four-year program to graduation at SUU, her plans have changed. "I feel the IE program gives me more curriculum and career options," she states.
Freshmen may still enter the pre-engineering program, engaging their first and second years in introductory stages of civil, electrical or mechanical engineering, making them eligible for an associate of pre-engineering degree. And, then, in the junior and senior years, the principles learned can be elaborated upon in an intense multidisciplinary curriculum. In the senior year, students take two Engineering Design Capstone classes in which they apply all they've learned to researching and designing projects solicited directly from industry. Students write papers on the projects for presentation to faculty, and quite possibly at statewide meetings, too.
"Ideally, we'd want the industry to be able to take the fruits of the students' work and bring a new product to the market," Penny exclaims. The Capstone classes are a remarkable bridge between students and the small to medium-sized companies, most of which operate in southern and rural Utah.
"When you assist manufacturers," Sorensen says, "you improve competitiveness, performance and profitability. Education needs to be closely-tied to those who hire."
In its first semester, the Integrated Engineering program held 24 new students plus four junior students-nearly 50 percent of the engineering division's roster. That enrollment number increased in spring 2002 to 30 students.
"MEP believes in the need for this degree so much," Sorensen declares, "we are going to help with some of the costs." MEP has pledged a half-time faculty member to liaison between SUU and potential employers.
The advantages of having an Integrated Engineering program available in an Utah higher education institution are numerous, and exciting. Employers will have who they need to "get the job done" most economically, and most efficiently. New small industry will now find Utah an even more attractive venue because of the increased, steady pool of qualified technicians.
And, graduates will receive enhanced employment opportunities because 95 percent of the market needs people with their precise, but well-rounded skills. They will have more options after graduation; they can go directly to work, or transfer straight into a master's and then, Ph.D. program in a specialized area. Moreover, Penny says, 50 percent of engineering graduates will eventually move up to management positions. He cleverly points out, "A manager is not well served by a narrowed education."
Finally, but maybe most attractive, is that a budding career engineer will have envious flexibility as to where he or she can work and live. Since large corporate entities have the resources to hire nationwide, coupled with the fact that large companies compose only five percent of the state's manufacturing industry, grads from a specialized program are more likely to find work outside Utah. Thus, with SUU's IE program being unique in the state, its students have more options and are more likely to find work within the state.
"This program will help people stay where they want to live and work," Sorensen says. "It will allow us to help build and support existing small companies as well as encourage and promote new business opportunities throughout the state."
That's an important factor to Cameron Gay, a junior from Joseph, Utah. He started out at SUU as a pre-engineering major and had plans to transfer to USU. But now, he will be one of the first graduates of SUU's first engineering baccalaureate program. Cameron's father works in Richfield, Utah, as a material engineer for the state. Cameron wants to do the same, and stay in a small area. "I would like to learn about other facets of engineering, and I will in Integrated Engineering. I feel it will strengthen me, make me more marketable, and, better prepare me for grad school."
Cameron continues, "I've spent a lot of time talking to the professors. I'm aware of their survey findings and the direction of the industry. I'm excited to be in the first phase of this program. It seems right to me."