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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Engineering Community Sees Growth in Utah


(Photo Courtesy of the U's College of Engineering)
(Photo Courtesy of the U’s College of Engineering)

What do Pixar, Adobe and Atari have in common? All were products of U engineer graduates.


In a recent New Yorker article, the Wasatch Front was named the new Silicon Valley due to the rise of opportunities in each engineering discipline. Richard Brown, dean of the college of engineering, believes the growth is due to state support and dedicated students from various Utah universities.

“Utahns are known for being a hard-working, serious people,” Brown said.

According to a recent Brookings report, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo rank in the top 15 for the share of all advanced industry jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Brown has seen a constant growth in the number of graduates at the U that coincides with the growth in faculty, research funds and construction.

“When other schools weren’t hiring because of the recession, we were still hiring,” Brown said. “We got our pick of faculty.”

Additionally, the engineering initiative, passed in 2001, has provided funds for engineering programs to continue growing. The U turns out approximately 500 bachelor of science graduates a year. Eighty-three percent of these graduates stay in Utah, a staggering number in comparison to national averages, Brown said.

Mark Thomsen, adjunct professor in the department of mechanical engineering, is a member of the Air Force and currently works at Hill Air Force Base. Thomsen is a U graduate and has watched the growth reflected in ever-increasing class sizes.

Thomsen sees the need for more engineers at Hill Air Force Base but also sees the need to prepare students with skill sets ready for the work force.

“If there is a tight connection between the U and local industries, they are going to be more sensitive of problems,” he said.

Each university has its strengths, but Thomsen prefers the trained U students who come ready with research background. As aircraft technology continues to develop, Thomsen hopes to work hand in hand with Utah institutions to grow the industry.

However, growth for some students means bigger class sizes and fewer TAs to serve student needs.

Joe Nielsen, a junior in electrical engineering, said he finds it especially frustrating when lab sections are full and classes are only offered once a year, at one specific time.

“It’s straining the resources that we have,” Nielsen said.

Despite the limitations, Nielsen said studying engineering has given him more opportunities. After graduating with a degree in Arabic, Nielsen returned to school because of difficulties in finding a job. Now, Nielsen said he can find jobs and internships even before graduating.

The opportunities in the field and continuous growth helps pave the way to solving global problems. On a bigger scale, the National Academy of Engineering issued the 14 grand challenges to be “solved” by the end of the 21st century. Dianne Leonard, academic coordinator for the
college of engineering, uses the challenges to show students real-life applications and help them decide which engineering discipline they want to study.

“All across the board, the demand for engineers is increasing,” Leonard said. “There is no engineering discipline that is projected to have negative job growth in the next 10 years.”

Mechanical engineering is the biggest department at the U. Biomedical engineering is the most recently added and is already the 16th largest program in the country, Leonard said.

As engineering grows economically and student population increases at the university level, there is more initiative to involve high school and middle school students in STEM programs.

Engineering students Cody Savage and Nick Moore are ambassadors in the STEM outreach program. Savage, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, became interested in engineering at an elementary school assembly when a college team from the aerospace engineering department linked his dreams of being an air force pilot with science. In the outreach program, Savage has loved to see kids get interested in the rocket, boat and robot building projects they do.

Moore, a sophomore in computer science engineering, was surprised to see the split between females and males almost at 50/50.

“We’ve got some positive responses from even the kids you wouldn’t expect,” Moore said.

The U is hoping to add courses to high schools around the state and recently added a “survey of engineering” course to Olympus High School that has seen success.

“As long as the state keeps supporting the growth, engineering will continue to grow,” Brown said. “It’s an investment with a very good return. It doesn’t cost the state anything.”

To reach goals of continuous growth, Brown said funds need to expand. Renovation of the Rio Tinto Kennecott Mechanical Engineering Building is a step in the right direction, but the college is quickly outgrowing its space on campus. As the field continues to develop and expand, issues like air quality, alternate energy and the future of technology is in the hands of engineers, Brown said.

“In every case,” Brown said, “engineering is very involved with innovation, wanting to make things better and solve problems.”

[email protected]

@carolyn_webber [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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