Academic Tuesdays: April 11, 2023

– By Bill Schnabel, dean of the College of Engineering and Mines

Tau Beta Pi students welcome visitors to the engineering open house in late February.
Tau Beta Pi students welcome visitors to the engineering open house in late February.

UAF’s College of Engineering and Mines is leaning into the changes sweeping our world, and creating a student experience designed to produce an engineering workforce optimized for modern practice. Alaska’s future engineering workforce will look and act differently than it did in years past, and it will be well-tailored to create solutions within a milieu of constant connectivity and rapid change.

Alaska’s future engineering workforce will be more diverse.
Collaborative creativity is enhanced through diverse perspectives, and diverse perspectives are gained through inclusion of people with diverse life experiences. To help move the profession towards its future state, CEM is initiating a joint university-industry partnership to encourage a higher fraction of women to pursue engineering. Although the
women in engineering initiative has only just begun, it has already attracted the attention of champions across the state.

Alaska’s future engineering workforce will be more collaborative.
As students raised in a climate of constant connectivity filter into the workforce, collaborative problem-solving will become ever more prevalent. As such, CEM is utilizing collaborative problem-solving in their recruiting efforts, through partnership with the
Teaching Through Technology (T3) program. Indeed, CEM recently developed a first-year course, Makerspace Alaska (ES100L), based upon the T3 model in which interdisciplinary teams of students conceive, design and develop a functional product based upon the students’ personal interests. CEM is also working with partners across campus to develop The MIX, an innovation incubator for the UAF community that utilizes the concept of interdisciplinary collaboration to develop creative solutions for teaching, learning, research, and development.

Alaska’s future engineering workforce will be more remote.
Technology even now allows us to work across distances, and that technology will advance in the future. In the future, some fraction of virtually every engineer’s work will be performed remotely. CEM is using this technology to reach a broader audience of Alaska’s engineering students. With the recent development of
Engineering Alaska (ES100X), high school seniors across the state and beyond can take their first UAF engineering course from their home location, and experience a rich introduction to engineering life in Alaska.

Alaska’s future engineering workforce will be more engaged.
Co-curricular student engagement has long been a hallmark of the CEM experience, as evidenced by the strong participation in, and success of, the numerous engineering
student clubs. Student clubs, research opportunities, professional societies, and similar co-curricular experiences provide opportunities for students to gain the hands-on experience that is so highly valued in the workforce. Due to generous gifts provided by CEM supporters in recent years, CEM is able to continue and enhance support for student co-curricular activities to levels not previously known. CEM graduates, among their other attributes, “know how to turn a wrench,” and that makes them extremely marketable.

Alaska’s future engineering workforce will address the challenges of tomorrow.
Alaska’s needs are changing, and CEM’s curricular offerings are changing in response. For example, CEM is currently developing a new Aerospace Engineering program that is proposed to begin in Fall 2024. This is in response to Alaska’s burgeoning aerospace industry, our demonstrated success in initiatives such as the
Alaska Space Grant Program, and the potential application of unmanned aerial vehicles across multiple industries critical to Alaska’s economy. CEM is also in the early stages of developing a new Energy Resource Engineering program in recognition of the impending transition from fossil-based to renewable-based energy systems. Moreover, CEM continues to modernize its sixteen existing graduate and undergraduate programs that have provided, and will continue to provide Alaska’s engineering workforce with graduates capable of driving positive change throughout Alaska’s economy.

For over 100 years, the University of Alaska has produced engineers imminently capable of meeting the challenges of the day. Although our world is changing before our eyes, CEM  will continue to produce engineers with the appropriate skills to meet those challenges. By leaning into the changes we see before us, CEM is transforming Alaska’s future engineering workforce from the ground up.