When Disciplines Unite
by Debby Denehy
Left: Whittemore and James in the renovated and state-of-the-art lecture room in the Bonilla Science Hall.
What happens when you cross an engineer with a business manager? At UIW, it's proving to be a winning combination.
It's all taking place in the Henry Bonilla Science Hall within a small program that just fielded its first two graduates. With 44 students enrolled this year and two engineering managers now working in San Antonio businesses, engineering management is taking off at UIW. This quiet little program is growing and heading for a big impact in the business world. The union blends technical, managerial and interpersonal skills to create an engineering manager, and UIW is beginning to turn them out into the marketplace.
“Engineering managers represent a highly desirable new discipline and modern companies want them,“ says engineering chair Alison Whittemore, who successfully launched the university's first pre-engineering program in 2002. Pre-engineering provides the fundamental coursework needed for engineering majors. A seasoned civil engineer, Whittemore knows that being a successful engineer is often about more than specifications and hard science; frequently, it's about business, too.
“Every successful project in the workplace involves a well-rounded mix of math, science and business with a large dose of communication skills.’’
– Alison Whittemore
“Every successful project in the workplace involves a well-rounded mix of math, science and business with a large dose of communication skills,“ explains Whittemore. “Academic programs offering the full spectrum of skills are increasingly in demand, as are their graduates.”
According to the American Society of Engineering Management (ASEM), all types of engineers in the U.S. are in growing demand. And approximately two-thirds of them will spend a substantial portion of their professional careers as managers (ASEM.org). By bridging the gap between engineering and management, these managers are both technically skilled and business savvy to manage projects effectively and function as an interpreter of key information.
It's no wonder career-conscious students are looking toward the field as a power tool for breaking into business and earning median annual salaries of $94,875 (salaries.com). Graduates of engineering management programs are often recruited by manufacturing and information technology companies, research foundations and government agencies.
An integral member of the team, Zhang teaches physics and mentors students in the program.
President Louis J. Agnese, Jr., had his eyes on this trend. His vision was to develop a viable and sought-after engineering program at UIW that would meet the demands of technical industries. Now more than ever, an engineering program fits well with the university's newer technical offerings and new complexes such as the AT&T Science Center and the John and Rita Feik School of Pharmacy. The university boasts state-of-the-art facilities to help increase its emphasis on scientific research and development. Provost, Dr. Terry Dicianna, has witnessed this evolution and feels that “Engineering management at UIW is a niche we can offer that's different from what other schools in Texas offer.”
So when Dr. Glenn Edward James was hired as Dean of the School of Mathematics, Science and Engineering two years ago, he was tasked with fulfilling that vision -- but how? What was the right type of program for the university? What format would train students for successful roles in the working world?
Whittemore came up with the answer. With the pre-engineering program underway, she quickly began to research the right four-year, follow-on degree plan that would fit within the university's culture, curricula and current space.
She studied curricula among the “best” undergraduate programs and conducted competitive analyses, contrasting successful designs against UIW’s requirements. With no program funding planned, the goal was to design a program that could use as much in-place coursework as possible and function within existing buildings. With so many engineering disciplines to choose from, only one seemed to match the university’s needs with those in the workplace -- engineering management.
Frye, the team's newest member, has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Houston, a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from University of Southern California and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
By fall 2004, the Bachelor of Science in Engineering Management launched with 12 students and an impressive suite of courses. Dr. Ruichao Zhang signed on to teach physics and help provide other classes. The UIW BSEM became the state's first undergraduate degree program in engineering management.
This coup sparked interest. Soon other universities started constructing undergraduate programs, understanding that students on this track will develop into highly employable job candidates. UIW’s program enrollment grew to 25 students in 2005 and 34 in 2006, ending that year with the first two engineering management graduates -- Rebecca Ward and Landon Mitchell.
With 44 enrolled students this year, more will be entering the queue to graduate. Whittemore is embarking on an awareness campaign to tell employers about the program to encourage recruiters' interest. An employer attending a recent job fair on campus asked her to refer our engineering management grads to its business because of their unique training in communicating effectively and solving technical problems.
Continued success seems imminent, but to attract more students, the program needs to become accredited, an official process of validation that begins, oddly enough, after the first students graduate. “To become accredited, we need graduates, and to get graduates, we need accreditation,” says James. “It's a challenge to accomplish the tasks in that order.”
As the process prepares to begin through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, a new faculty member was added to meet the increased demand for courses. Dr. Michael Frye joined the team in June and brings a wealth of experience in engineering instruction and the “ins and outs” of accreditation, a process said to take at least two years to accomplish.
In the mean time, Whittemore, James and Zhang can look back proudly on all they've accomplished and forward to the new programs on the horizon. A cutting-edge approach called “Design of Experiments,” known as DOE, is being integrated to train students in resolving real-life project constraints. There's also a new senior capstone course in development where students design and implement real campus projects or invent something that fulfills a real need. And someday, the team hopes to create a master's program in engineering.
It's a story that's far from over for this budding