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JMU eyes engineering program by 2008

An engineering program like no other in Virginia.

James Madison University could have such a program up and running by fall 2008 pending approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

"We think we're really filling a niche," said Dr. Ron Kander, head of the JMU department of integrated science and technology and a member of a committee that designed the program. The JMU Board of Visitors added its stamp of approval in June.

A key to gaining approval from the state, Kander said, is not replicating programs at other state schools. "This does not duplicate Virginia Tech or U.Va. or VCU or any of the other schools in the state. What we're proposing is a program that is going to offer a general engineering degree, a bachelor of science in engineering. Not a college with the subdisciplines, like chemical and mechanical and civil (engineering), that most of the schools have."

While the program will not be tied to a specific engineering specialty, it will be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. And, it will have a specific theme: sustainability, sustainable systems, sustainable societies. "The idea being to look at how engineers can design products and processes to make them have less of a long-term impact on the environment and make them long-term sustainable," Kander said.

The program should fit in well with many of the university's existing programs, including those in ISAT that focus on alternative energy, he added, and the university's overall desire to be a "green" institution.

Students who earn the general engineering degree will be well-positioned for finding jobs or going on to graduate school, Kander said. Industry seeks out general engineers to be program or project managers, he said, because they have a broad engineering understanding, can speak the disciplines and can bring teams together.

"They also will be very, very well-suited for graduate school in engineering," he said. "Most engineering graduate schools accept students with other engineering disciplines. In fact, they welcome students with other engineering backgrounds into their graduate programs."

Kander said, once it is fully implemented, there could be 50 students per class, and 200 students in the program at any given time. The program will require adding seven or eight engineering faculty positions. Another seven or eight faculty will be needed in areas such as chemistry, physics and mathematics due to the increased enrollment, he said.

The program will have classes in JMU's College of Business, College of Science and Mathematics and College of Integrated Science and Technology. It has yet to be determined in which college the program will reside; regardless, it will be managed by a board consisting of representatives of all three colleges.

An information analyst degree is in the works too

In addition to considering an engineering degree, SCHEV also is reviewing JMU's request to add an information analyst bachelor of science degree with concentrations in national security and competitive analysis. The program will be housed in the department of integrated science and technology, but will have courses in various colleges, Kander said.

The curriculum is designed mainly for students in their junior and senior years, and thus, will be about half the size of the planned engineering program.

As with students who get an engineering degree, job prospects should be good for those getting the IA bachelor's degree, Kander said. "Most large companies have these kind of people whose job is to look at the available public information and try to ascertain trends in the industry or competitors' behavior, to try to give the company a strategic advantage."

Jobs also should be available for those who choose the national security track, which will prepare them to work in various intelligence agencies.

"Some of the agencies were so enamored with our approach that they're actually starting to change their definitions of what they're looking for in an analyst to include what we're saying they should know how to do," Kander said.

Another advantage of the JMU program, Kander said, is that there are very few like it. Typically, the intelligence agencies hire analysts with traditional liberal arts degrees in such fields as foreign languages, philosophy or psychology, and train them in the analysis they want them to perform.

For more on JMU's integrated science and technology department, visit the Web site at www.isat.jmu.edu/.

— By Eric Gorton

Published August 2006 by JMU Media Relations