College beefs up programs
With a quickly growing college that includes rising enrollment numbers, Nebraska Engineering is putting new classes, programs and people in place to give students both a top-notch education and a foundation that will make them more well-rounded engineers in today’s professional world.
With an 8.5 percent growth in first-year student enrollment this semester, one might expect it to be easy for students to get lost wandering the halls of Nebraska Engineering’s campuses.
The College of Engineering, however, has put new classes, programs and people in place to give students both a top-notch education and a foundation that will make them more well-rounded engineers in today’s professional world.
“We are getting more help for students and faculty and it’s of a high quality. We are getting professionals who are engaged and that’s a big difference,” said David Jones, associate dean for undergraduate studies. “We would not be seeing this transition if not for the professionalism of the folks coming on board.
“We’re doing this because we want our students to be successful and well-rounded, complete engineers and people. But particularly at the early level, we want them to be good consumers of their academic environment, and that includes the academics and the industries and companies we have through here on a regular basis. If we have students locked in their dorm rooms playing video games, they are the ones missing out. They can do that anywhere else at any other time. There is so much for them to take advantage of here and turn this into a launching pad for the rest of their life.”
The molding of future engineers begins with a new sequence of four classes that emphasize essential non-technical skills beneficial in the professional world.
Before reaching their senior-year capstone class, students can take three classes that will help them learn to set personal and professional goals, to function in team settings and to take leadership roles.
“We want them to be good consumers of the opportunities around them,” Jones said. “That goes back to that first-year course, knowing what their values, goals and plans are so we can help them with those choices.”
To help keep students on track, advisers from Engineering Student Services in both Lincoln and Omaha will have access to the goals students set in the freshman-year class. Jones said it’s more than integrating the academic and advisory roles of the college.
“We’re going to promote our ideal that ‘Your Success Matters.’ One of the things that’s new on the list is that we’re modernizing our advising. We want to get students with the people who have the right information,” Jones said. “To that end, we’re using more professional advisers for many of our programs.”
With the increase in student enrollment comes a need to increase the staff who support and advise those students.
“We put a career services coordinator, Jen Skidmore, in Omaha, and it’s making a big difference,” Jones said. “Before we had one person in Omaha – Alma Ramirez Rodgers. She would do everything, but she was spread so thin she couldn’t focus on any one thing. Now, people have a little more bandwidth to have more of an impact.”
Engineering Student Services shares space with the Engineering Library on the second floor of Nebraska Hall, where a special glass-walled room, funded by Olsson Associates, has been constructed to be both a gathering place for students and a meeting room for student organizations.
A plan to upgrade classrooms and commons areas has begun, including installing modernized seating areas in Othmer Hall featuring booths and benches with imbedded electrical outlets to allow students continued use of computers and other electronic devices.
“The real theme is, we are here to serve and in this case, serve our students,” Jones said. “We’re always in constant upgrade mode with facilities, tools and equipment and opportunities. That’s what you see in the library.”
An increase in engineering learning communities, Jones said, is another part of the college’s plan to support students and give them a foundation for their entire collegiate experience.
Focused at the freshman level, learning communities bring students together in both academic and living environments. They live in the same dormitories and are grouped together in most of their classes, including those outside the College of Engineering.
Faculty members join learning community students in cocurricular and extracurricular activities, Jones said.
“Learning communities have a long history, but the newness here is the sharpness and the functionality of the program,” Jones said. “This has been much more purposeful with structure. There are outcomes we are looking for.
“We want our students to understand that it is their job as well. We do not create engineers just so they can go off and be rich. We create engineers so they can serve others. That’s part of the message that we want them to readily identify with.”