The University of Jamestown’s mechanical engineering students will have access to a new lab on the first floor of the Sorkness Center starting this fall, located inside a building addition that was constructed this summer. Construction and equipment for the project cost approximately $1.2 million.
The lab features new equipment, including several mill presses that allow students to do projects themselves in the classroom. Started in 2016, the mechanical engineering program will welcome its fourth group of freshmen, and the program expects to graduate its first six students in 2020.
“The addition expands the educational options for our students and thus increases the range of teaching techniques we can use in the program,” said Cherish Bauer-Reich, engineering department chair and assistant professor of engineering. “The senior design lab, which is the main portion of the addition, will enable us to provide more hands-on instruction in key areas, particularly in manufacturing processes.
“Prior to the addition, we had been relying heavily on 3D printing for projects,” Bauer-Reich said. “While additive manufacturing is becoming more and more important, traditional manufacturing processes are still used in most sectors, so it’s important for students to have a thorough understanding of both.”
Paul Olson, provost of UJ, said the program has a little over 60 students enrolled for the fall semester, and he hopes that number will continue to grow as prospective students learn more about what UJ has to offer.
“This is our first year with a fully staffed program,” Olson said. “Our faculty includes three mechanical engineers, one electrical engineer and one agricultural engineer. This allows students to interact with several different backgrounds and to kind of find what they want to do most after graduation.”
UJ previously had a pre-engineering program created in 1980, requiring students to take two to three years of general education courses to prepare them to transfer to another university to complete the degree. Bauer-Reich said the mechanical engineering program will improve the university’s ability to retain engineering students and allow students to finish what they started at UJ.
She said improving the program will rely on alumni and employer feedback to determine the most beneficial pieces of the program.
“I have spoken to alumni from the pre-engineering program who indicated they would have liked to have completed their entire degree at UJ instead of having to transfer,” Bauer-Reich said. “These students preferred the small class sizes with regular access to professors and several would have liked the opportunity to continue their involvement in athletics and other UJ activities. They felt that those options were not available to them at other universities, particularly athletics.”
Olson said the pre-engineering program wasn’t ideal. After speaking with employers around the Jamestown area, Olson said the school decided the demand for engineers was high enough to justify implementing a four-year program.
“It’s a tough major,” Olson said. “It’s a very intense program but it prepares students for life as an engineer.”
The first graduates
Graduating the first group of students will put many prospective students at ease, Bauer-Reich said.
“The most important aspect of having graduates is to demonstrate that we have completed the process of developing the program and have fulfilled the promise to our students that they will receive an excellent education in mechanical engineering,” Bauer-Reich said. “A lot of students were understandably anxious to join the program because it was new, so I think this will assuage their concerns and encourage a lot of other potential students to consider coming to UJ.”
Olson said many employers in the area have supported the program, even offering internships to a handful of students.
Bauer-Reich said graduating students will also allow the university to apply for accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET is a nonprofit, non-governmental agency providing accreditation to college or university programs that meet the quality standards of the professions of natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology, according to its website.
“Accreditation is significant because it broadens employment options for our graduates and helps employers know that we have a commitment to continual improvement of our program,” Bauer-Reich said.
Bauer-Reich said her class sizes were anywhere between 20 to 60 students throughout her own education at North Dakota State University.
“We currently have a student-faculty ratio of about 10 to 1 in the program and the average class size is around 10 students,” Bauer-Reich said. “We feel we can grow that a bit and still have a very interactive learning experience for the students given most engineering programs are significantly larger.”
UJ will also consider new ways to approach providing an education for mechanical engineering students, particularly with an online option.
“Nothing is definite but there are thoughts regarding the new online programs and whether engineering could or should be involved in that,” Bauer-Reich said. “We have also thought about how we can create a better engineering program by potentially adding other programs that would create a more interdisciplinary environment for the students.”
Olson said he is most excited to have his first group of seniors in the program this year because he will be able to see what they create for their senior engineering project.
“These are tangible results that the students will be able to walk away with,” Olson said. “Seeing the end product, we will get to see how it all comes together with these projects. It’s full circle.”
Students will work on building a small car during their senior year, something Olson hopes to one day see driving around campus.
“We don’t have a lot of majors that do that,” Olson said. “By learning how to do it yourself, this will make our students better engineers. That’s what we are shooting for.
Source: Daily Trust.