Educating engineers for our future: College embraces land grant goal

Writer: Ricardo Jacquez

For more than 115 years, New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering has embraced a simple goal: educate New Mexicans so they may go beyond being experts in their fields and become leaders in industry, government and academia.

The heart of our mission is to ensure excellence in engineering education and gain recognition as a pre-eminent engi­neering institution. To this end, we have celebrated many successes over the years, and I should know.

Since 1966, when I arrived on cam­pus fresh out of Las Cruces High School, I have been a near-constant part of the program. I earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering at NMSU, and returned to campus in 1981 as a faculty member, where I remained until becoming dean of the college last April. As a first-generation college student, I never imagined that I would someday become dean of the college.

The College of Engineering takes NMSU’s land-grant mission very seri­ously, and we work to provide opportu­nity to students and professionals alike.

We generate income from new patents, licenses and spin-off businesses, thereby strengthening the state’s economy.

Offering 23 different undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs makes the entire state more attractive to high-tech businesses, because they have a large talent pool from which to pull employees. And we help create business as well – our Manufacturing, Technol­ogy and Engineering Center is a valuable resource for entrepreneurs, helping turn ideas into reality. M-TEC supports economic development by providing education, engineering, technical and other extension services to constituents throughout the state.

Our faculty and staff often work side by side conducting extensive, yet practi­cal, research that has earned worldwide recognition and brought millions of dol­lars in funding to the college. During the 2009-10 school year, the College of Engi­neering’s research expenditures totaled $15.6 million, and new research awards and renewals came to $22.5 million – a 37 percent increase from the previous academic year. That figure is expected to reach $25 million by 2015.

We have one of the most advanced wind tunnels in the world, used for a variety of aerospace and mechanical engineering studies. The university’s Physical Science Laboratory, with which the College of Engineering partners, is home to the only FAA-approved Un­manned Aircraft Systems (UAS) testing space in the nation, with 15,000 square miles of airspace in which to operate.

This gives our students unique insight into a rapidly emerging technology, as well as opportunities not easily obtained at other institutions.

Providing an engineering program that is accessible to all students is our primary goal. Nearly half of our last crop of engineering graduates – 42 percent – were of Hispanic or Latino descent. Our Reaching the Pinnacle pro­gram supports and encourages students with disabilities to overcome the educa­tional barriers they face in considering science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, further proof of our commitment to diversity and out­reach to students from all backgrounds across New Mexico.

We savor our students’ successes all the more, considering that many of them come from economically dis­advantaged families. Many are first­generation college students as I was, and a significant percentage of them are not fully prepared to begin the engineer­ing curriculum without some remedial education.

With this in mind, our first chal­lenge is to entice the youth of our state to pursue higher education. Our second challenge is to encourage them to seek degrees in STEM fields. Over the past academic year, we reached nearly 7,000 students throughout the state with that message, through our K-12 STEM outreach programs. Approximately 90 percent of students participating in these programs graduate from high school and go on to college, which is why it is of paramount importance to these programs’ success that they are free and largely available in New Mexico’s rural areas.

The quality of our graduates and fac­ulty, the programs being developed and administered here and the impact we have on the local and regional economy as a whole as well as our scholarly devel­opment is well known among our peers and colleagues. But we also want to bring that information to students and parents throughout New Mexico.

Nationwide we face shortages in students choosing to enter STEM-re­lated fields. With the support structure, diverse fields of study, access to cutting­edge technology and knowledgeable fac­ulty in tune with the latest developments in engineering right here at NMSU, New Mexicans have an excellent – and convenient – opportunity to gain the expertise needed to lead America into the high-tech future.

Ricardo Jacquez is the dean and regents professor in the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University.

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