PIPELINE OF ENGINEERS
ECU program celebrates 10 years of meeting industry needs
East Carolina University’s engineering program launched at a perfect time for Kyle Barnes.
The 2004 Roanoke Rapids High School graduate planned to enroll at ECU for two years and then transfer to another university where he could complete an engineering degree.
But Barnes didn’t have to leave to earn his degree. He met Dr. Paul Kauffmann, one of the founders of ECU’s engineering department, who encouraged Barnes to apply for the new program.
“Everything it offered appeared to be a perfect fit for my needs and interests,” Barnes said.
As one of 35 close-knit engineering students in that first class, Barnes said he “was able to build relationships with students who were undergoing the exact same challenges.”
Barnes and ECU is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its engineering program during Homecoming weekend with an Oct. 3 lab tour, cake cutting, dinner and dance.
Kauffman, Dr. Tarek Abdel-Salam and Dr. Phil Lunsford started the Department of Engineering to meet a growing need for degreed engineers to help support a large manufacturing industry in eastern North Carolina.
The program has been instrumental in advancing the economic prosperity of eastern North Carolina, providing a steady pipeline of engineers to support workforce needs, said Dr. Hayden Griffin, department chair for engineering.
Barnes, 28, is an engineering manager at Carver Machine Works, a high-tech fabrication and welding company in Washington, North Carolina that serves customers in the aerospace, defense and power generation industries.
Lindsey Crisp, president and CEO of the company and an ECU graduate in accounting, said he’s often asked how his company – given its rural location – finds quality employees.
“I say all the time to our customers that we are in rural eastern North Carolina but we serve customers all across the United States. And then I talk about our relationship with ECU and the engineering school and how that pot of graduates is going to win our business.”
Crisp said he’s hired at least five ECU engineering grads in the last two or three years because they bring a problem-solving mindset to the job. Many, like Barnes, started as interns while in college.
Another benefit of hiring ECU engineering graduates, Crisp said, is that they often are from eastern North Carolina themselves, “so they tend to remain here for several years.”
The program graduated its first class of 26 in 2008. Now 550 engineering students are enrolled, and the department expects to grow to 1,000 students in the next five to 10 years. However, class sizes average 20-25 students, allowing for individual attention and hands-on learning in state-of-the-art laboratories beginning with the first semester of classes.
“I believe the small classroom size is what sets this program apart from most any other,” Barnes said. “This creates a learning environment that caters to the student and the available time needed for each student to succeed. I hope this student-to-instructor ratio can be maintained with the growth of the program.”
The caliber of students enrolled in the program has evolved with tougher admissions criteria. More than 450 students applied to the program in 2013, and 159 are now enrolled as freshmen for the 2014-15 academic year. Students earn a bachelor of science degree in engineering and can choose from one of five concentrations: bioprocess, biomedical, electrical, industrial and systems, and mechanical. Classes began in August for the program’s first graduate degree, a master of science in biomedical engineering.
The rapid expansion of ECU’s engineering program earned it a step up in academic standing this spring when the UNC Board of Governors approved renaming the College of Technology and Computer Science to the College of Engineering and Technology. The change had the unanimous support of other engineering programs in North Carolina’s public university system.
Dr. David White, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, said the move sends a clear message to companies considering locating here.
“Our economic development partners inform us that our new name … is important for promoting economic prosperity in the east, which is consistent with our university mission,” White said. “This name sends a message to prospective business and industry that we can provide the engineering-related talent they need.”
About 95 percent of ECU’s engineering graduates are offered jobs within 90 days of graduation. Approximately 65 percent of them stay in North Carolina — and about half of those in eastern North Carolina.
Steve Tuttle and Margaret Turner contributed to this story.