STEM grant could bring science in system engineering degree to Yuma before 2016
Progress is being made in offering a Bachelor of Science in systems engineering degree in Yuma before 2016.
Thanks to a $6 million STEM Futures Grant awarded to Arizona Western College last year, a five-year cooperative partnership was developed between the college and the University of Arizona to offer the degree locally.
“This engineering discipline is becoming more popular today as companies strive for constant improvements in overall system production efficiencies,” said James Jones, director of the STEM Futures Grant.
He described systems engineering as the science of designing, modeling, analyzing, organizing and managing complex systems of materials, machines, information and people to ensure the successful operation of defined processes.
As it currently stands, students can enroll in the systems engineering degree program by taking two years of classes at AWC, one year at UA-Yuma and the last year at UA's main campus in Tucson. Jones said the fourth year cannot be completed in Yuma at this time because it requires a two-semester senior design project that they are not yet equipped to offer locally.
“They have competition and they work with industry and with mentors and other engineers to develop the objective, which is a sponsor-supported project,” he said, noting that this senior project is very similar to what they would be doing in a real-life work environment in the engineering field.
To offer the final year in Yuma, Jones said, they are using grant funds to hire additional faculty members, purchase materials and equipment for the courses and construct a facility to be used for the program on AWC's campus.
UA has seven minors available through the systems engineering program, but Jones said that they will be picking three to offer in Yuma as they are starting out: solar technology, computer engineering and biosystems engineering. He noted that a minor consists of 12 to 16 upper-division credit hours.
“Most of the minor classes are already in place; computer science is probably the only area where we need to develop the classes a little bit more ... but we're hoping by next fall most, if not all, of these courses will be up and ready to go, which is the right timing for us as far as what we've planned with the grant with our student influx.”
There are currently 44 students in the program, but he is expecting that as they expand the opportunities available for students locally, the number of students will increase as well.
“Opportunities continue to only be limited to the number of students we can get to come into the program here — the number of successful students.”
Jones said to be a part of the UA College of Engineering for the second two years of the program, a 3.0 grade-point average is required. He added that it is important to make sure that students have an interest in science and math before entering the program.
“I don't want people to fall flat on their face and then have to rebound from that — that doesn't make sense. Unless you really want to do calculus and physics and so forth, be careful... it could set you back quite a lot if this isn't your particular interest.”
Jones said that after the grant expires in 2016, the systems engineering program will still continue in Yuma.
“The intent is to institutionalize this and not rely on the grant funding for various aspects of it because we want to establish something, not just fund it for a short period of time,” said Jones. He noted that faculty provided by UA will be paid through the grant until it expires and then UA will pick up the cost.
Jones said his hope for the program is to graduate knowledgeable students ready to step into hard to fill positions in the area.
“It is a win-win situation for everyone involved. Looking at (Yuma Proving Ground), they are now going to have a more reliable and high-quality reservoir of hiring potential of good technically educated engineering people that they can hire on board.
“UA will be able to expand their program because instead of just agriculture now, we'll have a solid engineering foundation in Yuma. It will make businesses more readily come into the area to take advantage of the engineers that are being produced here that are familiar with the area and will be more willing to stay in the area with their families.”
For more information about how to get involved in the systems engineering program, call STEM adviser Evelyn Figueroa at 344-7732.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.
In addition to the new program, students can expect to see new buildings on Arizona Western College's campus in coming years near the outdoor amphitheater on campus.
Through the STEM Futures Grant, the old Student Services building on the north side of AWC's campus will be refurbished to house the program, and two additional buildings will be constructed behind it to be used for energy labs and project development.
The main building will contain two large classrooms with reconfigurable desks and state-of-the-art laptops, also to be used for those taking computer science classes, as well as an area for studying activities.
The engineering technology building will also have televideo capabilities to connect with the University of Arizona.
“They can touch base with faculty advisers, or sponsors, or their cohorts that are working on projects in a supplemental instruction room, so three or four students get together to talk about a project and have communications with students on Tucson's campus,” said James Jones, director of the STEM Futures Grant.
“Its focus is to support the upcoming engineering students, because I believe they require that socialization where they solve problems together in groups to optimize their ability to not only converse with themselves and learn more but also be able to converse with sponsors and others in their lives they're going to have to communicate with.”
While the modification of the old Student Services building is expected to be completed by April 2013, the construction of the two additional high bay buildings are expected to be completed about a year and a half later.
The two additional buildings will three large energy lab areas for students to bring in large solar panels and other types of large material as well as work on their senior design projects.
“The energy labs in the back will be the most prominent piece that isn't going to be done until the latter part of 2015, because these are some large facility complexes that we're going to be adding on,” Jones said.