New Program Creates Leaders in Engineering
NADIA M. WHITEHEAD| November 7, 2014
students released balloons in front of the College of
Engineering. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service
The College of Engineering foyer bustled with anticipation Nov. 3 as students, faculty and staff awaited a major announcement by the University. Orange, blue and white balloons adorned a large podium, and nearby a frosted cake waited to be cut. A hum of chatter filled the air until Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the college, stepped onto the stage.
"We're here today to discuss a new program, one that we believe will change the paradigm for engineering education," he said to the audience. "The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the nation's first bachelor's degree program in engineering leadership here at The University of Texas at El Paso."
The innovative new bachelor's is in response to the ever-changing role of an engineer in society, Schoephoerster explained, from businessperson and entrepreneur to leader and communicator.
As the first Bachelor of Science in Engineering Leadership (E-Lead) in the country, the specialized degree will help students enter the workforce as well-rounded, confident individuals. While a technical engineering education will remain key, the program will focus on teaching these rising engineers business, communication, leadership and entrepreneurial skills. This unique curriculum is intended to capture the interest and imagination of talented, young students who are looking to turn their ideas into reality.
Minutes after the announcement, students who planned to switch over to the new degree trooped outside. After a quick countdown, they released handfuls of bright balloons into the sky. The procedure represented their launch into a promising new field of study, Roger V. Gonzalez, Ph.D., said.
Gonzalez, a mechanical and biomedical engineer, will serve as the director of E-Lead. He is the founder and president of LIMBS International, a nonprofit dedicated to providing ultra low-cost prosthetics to the poor.
"It's not all about calculus and physics – even though I love those subjects – but about the breadth you can communicate with others," Gonzalez said about the new degree. "We need to extend the reach of engineering beyond technical matters."
To do so, E-Lead will focus on three core values that are the foundation of a strong engineering leader: character, competence and capacity. Courses will revolve around nurturing independent, caring characters, and encouraging students to master their field of study. They'll also be presented with diverse challenges to learn how to incorporate multiple disciplines in day-to-day work.
In addition, for guidance on designing curriculum that will transform the experience of students, E-Lead will collaborate with the nationally recognized Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering and West Point, a military institution renowned for forging leaders. The hope is to go beyond course content and focus on applying and integrating the students' skills and knowledge in real-world scenarios.
Daniela Natera, a junior electrical engineering student, is excited to enroll in the engineering leadership program.
"I'm switching because the degree won't limit me to just engineering," she said, explaining she'd like to start a business one day, or teach. "Engineers used to design something new and someone else would sell the product. This program will teach me how to sell my ideas myself."
"So we're still going to be engineers, but just super engineers with many more skills."
Once students are in the program, they'll choose between three tracks that promote different skill sets: business, education and technical. While the technical track will require focus on a particular engineering discipline, like civil or mechanical engineering, the business track will give students the opportunity to take classes in management, accounting, economics, marketing and entrepreneurship in the College of Business Administration. Those who choose the education track will earn a state certificate in secondary education, allowing them to teach grades 8-12 once they've earned their degree.
UTEP alumnus Bob Malone, former president and chairman of British Petroleum (BP) America, strongly supports the new program, which he says represents a paradigm shift in how engineering is taught across the country.
"Early on in my career it became obvious that a strong engineering foundation was not enough," Malone said. "Engineering schools need to broaden strong engineering backgrounds with additional critical skills."
The E-Lead program was made possible by a $1 million gift from Malone and his wife, Diane, in 2011 along with a matching gift of $1 million from the Halliburton Foundation.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board officially approved UTEP's degree request Thursday, Oct. 23; more than 50 students have shown interest in the program so far.