HARRISONBURG — A new, and different, engineering program at James Madison University approved Jan. 9 by the state higher education governing body will be one of the most significant undergraduate programs added to the institution in the past 10 years, said JMU Provost Douglas T. Brown.

"It's the most innovative program in the state because it focuses on the area of sustainability," said Brown, JMU's vice president for academic affairs. "There's no other program framed this way. It's a truly cross-disciplinary program. Most engineering programs are highly specialized, and the addition of a business component will make the students highly marketable."

The program, approved Tuesday by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, will include classes in JMU's College of Business, College of Science and Mathematics and College of Integrated Science and Technology.

The provost added that the engineering program will fit well with JMU's new partnership with SRI International, the Silicon Valley-based independent research and technology development firm that announced in December its plans to build a state-of-the-art pharmaceutical research center in Rockingham County. SRI's plans call for other forms of high-tech research at the site just north of Harrisonburg.

Fall 2008 would be the engineering program's earliest possible startup, said Dr. T. Dary Erwin, associate vice president of academic affairs for assessment and public policy. JMU must first hire faculty, find space for three laboratories and purchase lab equipment. The program will need seven to eight engineering faculty, and another seven or eight faculty in disciplines such as chemistry, physics and mathematics due to increased enrollment.

Once fully implemented, the program capacity will be 200 students, 50 at each class-year level: freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.

"We think we're really filling a niche," said Dr. Ronald Kander, head of the department of integrated science and technology and a member of a committee that designed the program.

A key to gaining state approval, Kander said, was to offer a different type of program in Virginia.

"This does not duplicate Virginia Tech or U.Va. or VCU or any of the other schools in the state," he said. "What we're proposing is a department that is going to offer a general engineering degree, just 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 discipline, 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," Kander said, "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."

Brown noted the program will mesh with existing JMU programs, such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, as well as sustainability programs in JMU's College of Science and Mathematics and College of Integrated Science and Technology.

"The curriculum is brand new and it fits exactly with what employers want in engineers," the provost said.

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Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007

Last Updated: Friday, November 6, 2020

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