NORMAL — Illinois State University is studying the addition of an engineering program, which would have the potential to attract more high-achieving students and raise the profile of the institution, university officials say.
The study is still in its early stages, according to ISU Associate Provost Jim Jawahar, who is leading the steering committee.
A decision on whether to pursue an engineering program and what type of engineering program it would be is still months away, he said. Even if a decision is made to move forward, it would require additional months to develop a curriculum and gain necessary approvals on campus and from the ISU board of trustees and Illinois Board of Higher Education, he explained.
Two key factors considered before adding any program are whether there is an unmet need the university could fill and whether students who complete the program would be gainfully employed, said Jawahar.
He said there seems to be a “robust demand” in Illinois that its universities aren't meeting.
Greg Simpson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, agreed.
“There are a lot of really outstanding students that continue to look for a program,” he said.
The University of Illinois has an engineering school, but it is very selective, requires high test scores and receives far more applicants than it accepts, said Jawahar.
Northern and Southern Illinois universities have engineering programs but a lot of potential engineering students who don't make the cut at U of I are going out of state, according to Jawahar.
He thinks ISU could potentially fill the niche of attracting students with ACT scores in the 26 to 30-plus range who are currently leaving the state.
“We have a good reputation for offering quality programs,” he said. “It also offers us more ability to attract international students.”
Other factors going into the decision are available faculty and resources.
“We want to build on the expertise of our faculty,” said Jawahar.
Simpson said, “Illinois State already has a lot of resources that could contribute to some areas of engineering with our physics department, technology department and mathematics department.”
He said electrical and mechanical engineering and engineering physics are areas to which existing faculty could contribute.
Additional faculty would be needed as well as resources such as lab space.
Dan Holland, professor of physics and department chairman, said “We would be doing a lot of project-based courses” and students would need labs where they could build things, taking a project from a concept to a finished product.
Jawahar said the university would be looking for private-sector partners to help with such resources, as State Farm did with the launch of ISU's cybersecurity major.
Holland said the prospect of adding an engineering program is “an exciting, daunting and frightening task all at the same time.”
It's daunting and frightening because of “the magnitude of starting a whole new program” and “making sure it's a success” as well as determining how it would affect the university as a whole, he said.
Members of the steering committee have been visiting other schools with engineering programs, particularly those who recently added programs.
The visits have been helpful to narrow the fields of engineering ISU might pursue, to learn what has worked and “some of the pitfalls,” said Simpson.
Holland, faculty sponsor for the ISU Solar Car Team, said the team would be even stronger if it had engineering majors and "faculty who were experienced in engineering."