On-line engineering programs meet student and employer needs

Increasing numbers of students are graduating with degrees through the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University and many of them have never set foot on campus. The College of Engineering offers three different programs through distance education.  Developed in response to employer needs, these programs and their graduates alike are in peak demand.

The department of engineering technology and surveying engineering offers a bachelor’s of information and communication technology and the industrial engineering department offers a master’s of science in industrial engineering and a systems engineering graduate certificate. These programs are offered entirely through distance education so that students can “attend” class anytime, anywhere.

“These programs are particularly attractive to working people because they are available to them on their time,” said Edward Pines, industrial engineering department head and engineering distance education program director.

Students in these programs come mainly from around the state, but there are students enrolled from places as far away as Japan and Iraq.
Engineering produced its first distance education offering in the 1980s, with a master of science in industrial engineering. The degree program had an emphasis in engineering management and was developed to fit the needs of military organizations and industry.  The College of Engineering had an agreement with Boeing, which made the program available to employees at its Everett, Washington facility.

Michael Shea, a Boeing flight crew operations integration engineer, earned his master of science in industrial engineering from NMSU in 2003 through the program.  Boeing paid for employees to complete the program via on-site classroom instruction and streaming video.

“Initially, I hadn’t considered an industrial engineering degree,” said Shea. “I have a bachelor’s degree in business management and l investigated several MBA programs, but I found that much of the MBA curriculum covered things I had already studied as an undergraduate.”

At the suggestion of his former college roommate, Shea considered an engineering degree. He discovered NMSU’s distance education program in industrial engineering and found that the coursework complemented his management education.  With several pre-requisite courses, he would be eligible for the master’s program.

“I probably would have pursued a master’s degree anyway, but it would have been much more difficult had the NMSU distance education program not been available,” Shea said. “The choices for graduate degree programs in the immediate area are limited and I would have been facing a commute.  Instead, NMSU brought a terrific education right to my doorstep.  Faculty and staff made everything super convenient for working students like myself, and they took a lot of the ‘distance’ out of distance education.  The accessibility and responsiveness of NMSU’s faculty and staff was outstanding, actually better than at some schools where I had attended in person.”

The master’s of science degree program offers specializations in engineering management, computer modeling, operations research and manufacturing engineering. Requirements can be met in one of three ways: a project option, a course-only option, or a thesis option, each consisting of 30 credits. Approximately 50 students are currently enrolled and several hundred have graduated from this program since its inception in the mid 1980s.

A bachelor’s degree in information and communication technology (ICT) was first offered in 2005 through the department of engineering technology and surveying engineering. It has since become one of the fastest growing degree programs on campus. Nearly 80 students are currently enrolled in the program, which allows students who have fulfilled certain prerequisites from other programs to take junior and senior-level courses to earn the bachelor’s degree.

“Approximately 80 percent of the students enrolled in this program work full time,” said Lynn Kelly, associate professor and ICT program manager. “Most of them already have an associate’s degree and come with a wide variety of backgrounds.”

The ICT program is well-suited for students with an associate degree from a community college or from another college department. It requires students to have 33 credits in computer or technology courses and 30 credits in general education.

Students who earn a bachelor’s degree in ICT are qualified to work in computer forensics, networking, databases and web systems.
“I can’t think of a graduate from the program who hasn’t gotten a job,” said Sonya Cooper, engineering technology and surveying engineering department head. “We can’t supply enough students to meet the demands required by today’s technological workforce.”

The most recent engineering distance education program arose from the demands of employers. The systems engineering graduate certificate program was first offered in fall 2007 and currently has 33 students enrolled. The program will graduate 7 students this spring.

The program is designed for working professionals who have undergraduate degrees in engineering, engineering technology and related fields, or for those who have graduate degrees who are seeking new career opportunities.

The 12-hour program consists of courses taught by faculty in the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Industrial Engineering.

“There was growing interest in this field of study by local and regional industry, for example the aerospace industry and the government contractors with the White Sands Missile Range,” said Pines. “The more complex projects require employees to have a better toolkit from which to draw. “These types of program give working people a way to advance their careers,” said Pines.

That was the experience of Shea at Boeing.

Shea designs flight decks for Boeing jetliners and says he frequently uses industrial engineering skills he acquired from NMSU in designing flight crew procedures, crew alerting systems and displays, and control panels which serve as the interface between flight crews and their aircraft.  He also found his industrial engineering education to be invaluable in his previous work as a quality engineer.

“Getting a master’s degree enabled me to become an engineer and pursue the technical career path that I was seeking,” said Shea. “It is a huge help to my career. Bottom line—it’s a great program and I highly recommend it.”

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