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VOL. 126 | NO. 192 | Monday, October 3, 2011

Programs Work To Keep Talent In Memphis


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Students interested in obtaining a degree in chemical, civil, electrical, computer and mechanical engineering have several local options thanks to programs offered at Christian Brothers University, Rhodes College and the University of Memphis.

In addition to preparing the local workforce for high-paying jobs, the schools also work to keep that knowledge base here in Memphis.

CBU offers undergraduate engineering programs in chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. This semester there are approximately 240 students participating in the engineering programs, and the school boasts a low student-faculty ration of 12 to 1.

Dr. Eric B. Welch, dean of CBU’s School of Engineering, said he believes the university works hard to educate its students while also benefiting the local economy. CBU features an internship program in which roughly 80 percent of its students obtain some local industry experience by the time they graduate.

“We work during the students’ junior and senior years to place them with a variety of companies here in Memphis like Federal Express, Smith & Nephew and Cummings Diesel,” said Welch, who has been head of CBU’s School of Engineering for seven years. “Engineering is a highly mobile profession. The starting salary for engineers is basically twice what it is for those with a general liberal arts degree.”

He explained that enrollment has slowly increased for the past several years, although this year things have been a bit slower due to the struggling economy.

“The economy is tight, and that tends to make it harder for people to think about college in general,” Welch said. “Engineering nationwide is down dramatically from the mid-1980s. After the dot-com bust of 2000, computer and electrical science enrollment dropped considerably. But now those disciplines are on the way back up.”

CBU promotes its engineering program year-round with a variety of pre-college activities targeting high school and middle school students, including faculty speaker programs, workshops, laboratory tours, campus visits and high school engineering competitions. The next event will be a middle school workshop on Oct. 27 called “Kick Stick: Simple Electric Currents.”

Although Rhodes College does not have an engineering school of its own, it works in tandem with several local universities to offer a cross-town dual degree program that includes three to four years of study at Rhodes followed by two years in the other university’s engineering program.

“We offer a dual bachelor’s program with Washington University in St. Louis, a dual bachelor’s program with CBU, and a B.S./M.S. program in biomedical engineering with the joint graduate program in biomedical engineering at the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee,” said Dr. Ann Viano, the J. Lester Crain Professor of Physics at Rhodes who oversees the dual degree program.

The Washington University program has been part of the school’s offerings since the early 1970s, and the other two programs came online within the last eight years.

“We do not recruit, but the fact that we do have these programs causes some students considering careers in engineering to also consider a liberal arts college like Rhodes,” Viano said. “Each student who expresses interest in the program receives personal advising and Washington University sends a representative from their program to visit once each year.”

The University of Memphis’ Herff College of Engineering was established in 1965 and currently offers approximately 20 undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees.

The university’s recruitment efforts are paying off, as the college’s undergraduate enrollment increased 10 percent this year to 908 students, up from 820 in 2010.

The graduate program enrollment for 2011 is 156 students, down slightly from 184 last year. Class sizes average 20 to 35 students.

“We do direct recruitment at College Night held at the Agricenter,” said Dr. Deborah Hochstein, associate dean for Academic Affairs and Administration at the University of Memphis.

“We also participate in college fair events and site visits to physics classes in local high schools.”

The U of M also has several outreach programs for middle and high school students related directly to engineering.

The university offers National Science Foundation grants that help all STEM students (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) with tutoring and scholarships, as well as a TRiO program that targets STEM majors who are the first generation to attend college along with minorities and students with disabilities that require assistance like tutoring, scholarships, computer labs, books, mentors and more.

Strong co-op and internship programs have resulted in more than 200 local companies hiring U of M engineering students while they were completing studies. Many of those students are offered full-time employment upon graduation.

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