News Column

UTEP Engineer Program Key in Recruiting Drive

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UTEP College of Engineering Dean Richard Schoephoerster is among a handful of engineering deans leading a national push to increase the number of engineers in the nation, and do it by changing the way engineers look and think.

The change in looks will come by increasing the number of Hispanics, blacks, and women engineers.

The change in thinking will come by changing curriculums to teach engineering students more people and business skills to go with their technical skills.

"What's driving this right now, is we're at sort of a crisis point in terms of the engineering workforce right now," Schoephoerster said. "I was at a meeting (recently) that included the overall vice president for human resources for Boeing, that

has 30,000-plus engineers around the world. He said a third of his engineering workforce is going to retire in the next five years. He is desperate for engineers."

The United States also has to keep up with China and India, which are producing large numbers of engineers, he said.

The solution is for engineering colleges to do what UTEP has done for decades -- match the demographics of their communities, which means bringing more Hispanics and blacks into the colleges, he said. The UTEP college also has a goal to increase the number of women in the school, he said.

Another key part of the solution is to make engineering curriculums more interesting and more tied to how engineers' technical skills can help improve the world, he said. In essence, to produce more well-rounded engineers.

James Spohrer, director of the IBM University Programs Worldwide, based in California, said in an email that the ideas being pushed by Schoephoerster and other engineering deans to broaden engineering education should "help improve the quantity, quality, and diversity of engineers."

"In many areas of engineering, especially the newest, hottest areas, there are not enough engineers of the type industry needs," Spohrer said.

He agreed with the UTEP dean that engineers for the future need more of a blend of business, communications, and organizational skills to go along with their technical skills. Those combined skills are needed by IBM and other companies to build a smarter and better planet, he said.

Schoephoerster, 49, came to UTEP in July 2007 after a 17-year stint at Florida International University in Miami, the nation's top producer of Hispanic engineers. He was founding chair of its Biomedical Engineering Department, a program he's also starting at UTEP.

He's one of four engineering college deans who last month went to Washington, D.C., to brief several members of Congress, federal agency officials, and others about a plan to increase the number of Hispanics, blacks, and American Indians getting engineering degrees in the United States from 12.4 percent in 2010 to 20 percent by 2025, and to transform engineering education.

The plan, with a list of 10 recommendations to increase the flow of engineering graduates, comes from a report produced out of a National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop in March. (The report is available online, http://eic3.eng.fiu.edu/nsf)

"The deans are trying to create a platform to change the demographic face of engineering because that's the only way demand (for engineers) can be met in this country," said UTEP President Diana Natalicio. "UTEP is in a perfect leadership position because it is one of the top producers of Hispanic engineers in the nation."

UTEP has made a name for itself by producing quality engineers that don't look like engineers did 50 years ago when the typical engineer was a white male, Natalicio noted.

UTEP is the second-largest producer of Hispanic engineers in the country, just behind Florida International in Miami.

UTEP has 350 to 475 graduates a year from all engineering-degree programs, with about 75 percent of those Hispanic and almost a quarter of them women, which includes some of the Hispanics.

The engineering college's goal is to increase the number of graduates by 25 percent in the next three to five years, and increase enrollment -- now at 3,154 --to 4,000 in the next five to eight years, the dean said.

It's also aiming to eventually have half its graduates be women, he added.

The engineering college is the second largest at UTEP, behind the College of Liberal Arts.

UTEP, Florida International, California State Los Angeles, and other minority-serving schools have been very good at producing Hispanic engineers, Schoephoerster said.

"But we can't handle the burden ourselves," he said.

So, the schools need to be models on how other engineering colleges can graduate more minorities, he said. One way the schools will do that is through the now-forming national Consortium of Minority-Serving Engineering and Technology Programs at Urban, Public Universities, he said.

IBM's Spohrer said he agreed to sit on the UTEP engineering college advisory board because of Schoephoerster's vision for transforming engineering education.

"Specifically, the (engineering education) model of the future may evolve to be more like the medical school clinical model, where faculty are practitioners and their students are working on real-world challenges," Spohrer said.

Schoephoerster said engineering schools can learn from medical schools -- where faculty are typically practicing doctors tied to teaching hospitals -- to attract a new generation of engineers.

Engineering colleges need more practicing engineers to bring "practice-based skills" to students, and more company internships for students to get more hands-on training, he said.

Broadening the undergraduate engineering curriculum will help attract more people into engineering, and by making the curriculum more "practice-based, students will stay more engaged and won't drop out," the dean said.

UTEP is taking a step in that direction with its broad-based Leadership Engineering degree program, set to begin next fall.

"We call it Leadership Engineering because we want to attract future leaders into the engineering field" instead of having those people go into law, medicine, or general business, Schoephoerster said. "Part of the reason we're not producing more engineers is we're losing high-quality students to other fields.

"We are a society so dependent on technology that people driving society forward on a professional level need to have a fundamental understanding of technology," and a broad-based engineering program can do that, the dean said.

"We believe engineering is the liberal arts degree of the 21st century," he said.

UTEP President Natalicio said she doesn't see engineers resembling liberal arts grads. But, she said, there's no doubt they need a broader knowledge of the world.

UTEP started a program --with part of a $10 million gift last year from a former engineering grad, Mike Loya -- to converge engineering and business programs so engineering students get a broader understanding of the economics of engineering, she noted.

Engineers need to "develop a broader range of people skills because job conditions will shift, and the more broadly educated (engineer) will be able to navigate" the future better, Natalicio said.

More information: http://engineering.utep.edu

Degree flow

Engineering degrees awarded, 2010-2011--:
-- Bachelor's: 83,001 (18.4 percent women).
-- Master's: 46,940 (22.6 percent women).
-- Doctoral: 9,582 (21.8 percent women).

--U.S., and Puerto Rico

Source: American Society for Engineering Education.

Degrees by ethnicity

Percentage of engineering bachelor's degrees by ethnic group, 2010-2011--:

-- Asian-Americans: 12.2 percent.
-- Hispanics: 8.5 percent.
-- Blacks: 4.2 percent.
-- Whites: 69.8 percent.

--U.S., and Puerto Rico

Source: American Society for Engineering Education.

Top Hispanic schools

U.S. engineering schools with the most bachelor's degrees to Hispanics, 2010-2011:

1. Florida International University, 359.
2. University of Texas at El Paso, 220.
3. University of Florida, 167.
4. Texas A&M University, 151.
5. California State Polytechnic, Pomona, 143.

Source: American Society for Engineering Education.

UTEP profile

UTEP College of Engineering data:

-- 3,154 students.--
-- 79 percent Hispanic.
-- 19.3-percent women.
-- 299 bachelor's degrees.--
-- 160 master's degrees.
-- 15 doctoral degrees.
-- 103 faculty members.

Source: UTEP