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SWT fires up engineering

Austin Business Journal


University in San Marcos prepares to add engineering school as UT, A&M try to keep up with demand

The Austin Business Journal (06/09/2003)

By Mary Alice Kaspar

With businesses complaining they can’t find enough educated engineers, and 30 percent to 50 percent of engineering applicants to Texas’ top universities getting rejected for space reasons, a local solution is on the way.

Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos is laying the groundwork for its own School of Engineering.

Manufacturing and computer science courses are taught at SWT’s College of Science. But the university’s president says industrial engineering courses are the next natural move.

“ We’re already strong in physics and technology, key building blocks,” says Denise Trauth, president of SWT. “We have a lot of pieces in place, but what we don’t have is a School of Engineering. And that’s what we are prepared to add here in a couple of years.”

Trauth says she sees a number of signs pointing to the need for SWT to add industrial engineering courses, such as the state’s multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.

“ That’s a wake-up call, and that’s not going to go away. Texas needs to transform its economy,” Trauth says. “We have data to show Texas is underserved in engineers.”

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board numbers that indicate the number of engineers coming out of Texas schools needs to increase.

A report from the board states the number of students completing engineering, computer science, math and physical science degrees and certificates needs to increase from the current 14,500 to 19,000 in 2005 and jump to 29,000 by 2015.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 65,000 students earned bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2001, compared with 80,000 just 15 years earlier.

Businesses that employ engineers agree there’s a gap between supply and demand.

Michael Zeller, academic relations manager for Austin-based National Instruments Corp., is encouraged by the prospects for an engineering school at SWT. NI employs about 3,000 people worldwide, more than 1,400 of whom are engineers.

“ There’s not enough engineers graduating, particularly in Texas,” Zeller says.

Zeller says NI recruits employees from about 30 universities, with a heavy emphasis on Texas schools because students sometimes are reluctant to move out of state.

“ With SWT entering the mix, it’s a good opportunity for us, being somewhat local,” Zeller says. “It will definitely open up some doors for us to be involved in another university locally.”

For the upcoming fall semester, the University of Texas had about 4,550 applicants to its engineering school. It accepted 47 percent of them, or 2,140 students. About 3,965 students applied to Texas A&M University’s engineering school, which accepted 67 percent, or 2,671 students.

Ben Streetman, dean of the College of Engineering at UT, says demand for engineering education at UT and A&M outstrips what the schools can supply.

“ Certainly, we turn down a lot of students that are highly qualified,” Streetman says. “The SAT scores have crept up considerably in the last few years, so there are a lot of students in Central Texas that would be successful that we can’t accommodate. SWT would provide a good service to the community to have that [engineering] available.”

Streetman says UT would be willing to help get SWT’s initiative off the ground.

SWT’s Trauth says the university will begin an internal planning process this summer. A plan will be presented to its Board of Trustees in about a year, with final approval needed from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.