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The heart of the matter: Why UWEC for engineering

| Marc McEllistrem, professor of materials science and engineering

This fall UW-EC is launching a new Engineering major: materials science and engineering.  This major benefits and builds on science and math programs with top-in-the-nation reputations combined with an education that prepares graduates for diverse careers and mindful civic engagement – an education that has benefited a century of graduates.

I am sometimes asked “Engineering at UW-EC?  Isn’t a more ‘technical campus’ a better move?”  I would argue not.  Consider:

  • National engineering leaders have for many years emphasized that graduates be broadly educated, not just trained in the technical aspects of the discipline. For example, in its report “Educating the Engineer of 2020” the National Academy of Engineering noted that “In addition to producing engineers who have been taught … core knowledge and … solving problems in the short term, institutions must teach students how to be lifelong learners.” This means that a university that offers a broad array of diverse disciplines and challenges students to improve their creative thinking, intellectual curiosity, communication skills, and passion for learning are just as important as critical thinking and technical skills.  Such an education is the hallmark of a UW-EC degree.
  • Employers continue to stress the fact that their employees need both “hard skills” and “soft skills”. That is, an employee’s ability to work respectfully with their teammates is as important as their numerical literacy. Local employers have stated that their employees need “to be well-educated in the technical aspects of their field… but should also be creative, think critically, and work well in teams.”  And yet employers also note that “Western Wisconsin has many successful companies that compete for engineering talent, which is thus in high demand”.
  • A unique feature of engineering requires designing solutions to meet stated needs. Good design requires an appreciation of fundamental engineering concepts, but it also requires good listening skills and creative problem solving abilities.  The best designs grow out of an appreciation of many “inputs”, which in turn requires that the engineer be well-versed in these other areas.  Once again, a broad education serves the engineer best.

Materials science and engineering, and indeed the entire field of engineering, is changing rapidly in response to diverse voices.  As UWEC designs and develops the new major, we are creating a degree program distinct from more traditional engineering programs.  The technical aspects of an engineering degree are important, but they are not sufficient.  And that is why an engineering degree from a campus like UWEC prepares graduates to work as the “Engineers of the Future”.