Growth of Norwich Engineering goes against national trend

engineering competition
The annual bridge building competition, sponsored by the Norwich University Civil Engineering Department, draws teams of high school students from all over Vermont.

As a shortage of scientists and engineers looms in our nation's future, Norwich University continues to work on expanding its engineering department. A study performed by the National Science Board has revealed that the United States will be facing a shortage of U.S.-born science and engineering professionals in the next few years. Based on this report, the board is recommending that the federal government take steps to ensure that the engineering and science workforce remains strong. Norwich University's recent efforts at strengthening its engineering program are already evident, with enrollment up 41 percent since 2001.

The 24-member National Science Board, appointed by the president, provides advice to the president and Congress on matters of national science and engineering policy. Results of the board's three-year study, "The Science and Engineering Workforce: Realizing America's Potential," were released last month. Among their conclusions, the board found that 17 percent of workers with bachelor's degrees in science or engineering in the United States were from a foreign country, based on 2000 census figures. That proportion increased to 29 percent among those with master's degrees and 38 percent among Ph.D.'s. In their report the board argued for a strengthened federal focus and action on national needs for science and engineering research and education.

Norwich University continues to make educating engineers a top priority. In the spring of 2002, Norwich created a "New Business Initiative" in order to increase the number of new students and retain the number of current students in the school's engineering program. As part of this initiative, a Director of Engineering Admissions was hired to help sell the engineering program to interested high school students.

engineering grad accepts ring
A Norwich graduate receives his ring as a proud new member of the Order of the Engineer

"We have also developed marketing specifically aimed at drawing engineering students," said Dr. Dennis Tyner, head of the David Crawford School of Engineering at Norwich.

Other steps being taken by Norwich include hosting a free week-long engineering summer camp, holding two engineering open houses on campus each year, and awarding $2,500 and $5,000 engineering scholarships to qualified high school students. Efforts to retain existing students include offering engineering study halls five nights a week and redesigning the engineering curriculum to make it more relevant.

"We no longer have a required core curriculum in the first two years of our program," Tyner said. "Instead, students begin to take courses in their field of study in their very first semester."

Today, the Norwich engineering program has an enrollment of 215 students; up from 152 students in 2001.

"While the National Science Board study serves as a wake-up call to many, we have already been focusing on strengthening our engineering program at Norwich," Tyner said. "We will continue to work towards this goal in the years to come."

by Mark Albury
January 2004

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