News

SUU IE: Free Laptops, Identity and New Definition

January 13, 2006
Category: Academics


Every Tuesday evening, for hours at a time, you can find a group of determined freshman Integrated Engineering students in the basement of the Technology Building on the campus of Southern Utah University.

Talking. Debating. Consulting. Pounding feverishly on laptop keys. Writing out mile-long formulas reminiscent of scenes from “Good Will Hunting.” These young people are intelligent, unarguably, and they are only getting smarter.

They are also taking full advantage of the still young-and-innovative Integrated Engineering curriculum at SUU, and its special Freshman Cohort plan. This IE program is, indeed, a unique one. It is the only one of its kind in the state higher education system, and one of only a few similar programs in the entire country. It is the only ABET-accredited program of its type. ABET, Inc., established in 1932, is the recognized U.S. accreditor of college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and technology. Accreditation is a process in academia that ensures the quality of postsecondary education students receive.

Integrated Engineering defined, is a program designed to meet the particular needs of small and medium-sized companies. Nowadays, many small companies can ill afford to hire a fleet of engineers, each with a specialty; so, the SUU Integrated Engineering degree will produce an interdisciplinary engineering generalist who can deal with most smaller companies’ engineering challenges. So, in a way, one could dub an SUU IE graduate to be a specialist, indeed, because he/she can serve a company more economically and efficiently by being able to do “a little bit of everything.” The SUU IE degree is a direct supply to the demand by today’s industry conditions.

It is a challenging program with some 75 students enrolled. Blair McDonald, associate professor of engineering, is passionate about teaching the subject as well as supporting his students to succeed. That was the inspiration for him and his colleagues to design the worthwhile IE Freshman Cohort plan.

The Freshman Cohort concept is both an incentive and support plan. “The IE major is a major undertaking, if you will,” McDonald says. “Our students need our support to stay focused, committed and successful.”

To be eligible to join the Freshman Cohort, one must be a declared Integrated Engineering major, enrolled in Calculus I or above, committed to completing the four-year degree program and maintaining a GPA standard.

Last semester, between 5-10 students met these standards and proceeded to meet for several hours each Tuesday evening to study together under the mentorship of McDonald. They also attend the Friday Engineering Seminars whenever possible. As a reward and incentive, each were provided with a notebook laptop computer loaded with software to help them execute their engineering studies.

“The faculty of this program highly-regard the merits of recruitment and retention,” McDonald says, “and we feel this cohort program helps us achieve these goals. Interaction with faculty, we are convinced, is key in IE student success.”

Freshman Cohort member Aaron Timpson, from Centennial Park, Ariz., can vouch for this with assurance. “The faculty help in the classroom, not teaching assistants.” Timpson did not take lightly his search for the right college. He knew he wanted to go into some type of engineering-related field, and proceeded to personally interview the professors at different schools. “I found that the education at SUU was better for someone planning on taking this to the Ph.D. level.”

On one particular Tuesday night, the Cohort had gotten together to focus themselves on dominating the concepts of calculus. McDonald was nearby to offer any instruction or counsel. “The IE faculty mentors have agreed to be available to the students 24/7,” McDonald indicates. “We hope to also involve our junior and senior students, too, as mentors. We believe all this helps them get through school better.”

Levi Nelson, from Rexburg, Idaho, appreciates the same advantage of going to college at SUU as Timpson. “I need someone looking over my shoulder. It helps me keep your priorities straight.”

McDonald says, “The Cohort students are certainly receiving that sort of attention through an engineering forum that truly is giving them an identity.”

Brady Christensen adds, “The one-on-one is there if we need it. So far, my experience at SUU has given me a new definition of college.” From Richfield, Utah, Christensen became aware of SUU through the University’s Distinguished Scholar recruitment program.

The Integrated Engineering program also wants to cohort the “non-ready” students--those who don’t yet meet the requirements for the Freshman Cohort program. The faculty hope to achieve this through the junior/senior mentoring program as well as the design of a Pre-Engineering Cohort that has similar objectives and activities. Students interested in the Integrated Engineering cohort programs should contact Dr. McDonald at 435.586.7908 or mcdonald@suu.edu

In supplement of all these strategies, the IE faculty remains committed to recruiting more students through the Engineering Week and Technology Fair programs in the Spring semester, and individual campus visits which can be scheduled through the Admissions Office (435.586.7741). Christensen verifies that this type of personalized recruiting is effective, as he remembers with humor, how Bill Pratt, assistant professor of engineering, practically attacked him with enthusiasm over SUU’s IE program at a freshman orientation session.

Warrior tactics aside. . .McDonald hopes that the Cohort program, not to mention the free laptops, will “help these students stay together through the four years.”

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