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UTEP is Changing the Face of Engineering

Carlos Ferregut
Dr. Peter Golding
“The atmosphere at UTEP is very Hispanic,” says Carlos Ferregut, associate dean for graduate studies and research. “You hear Spanish spoken all over campus.”

Recruitment in the southwest region around El Paso, southern New Mexico, west Texas and northern Mexico fills the college with Hispanic students and faculty. Three quarters of the engineering students are Hispanic, making the University of Texas at El Paso a “minority majority” school.

“Diversity drives innovation” is the underlying principle of the college’s strategic plan. One of UTEP’s challenges is to increase the number of women students in engineering. Although around 60 percent of UTEP students are women, only 20 percent of engineering students are female.Dr Peter Golding: “Our students are achievers who are highly sought.”

“Women students at UTEP are in a supportive environment and do well,” says Dr Peter Golding, associate dean of undergraduate studies. The school encourages participation in the UTEP SWE chapter and sends students to state and national conferences.

“When someone comes through our door, we are only concerned with their success,” says Golding. “When a student comes to engineering we see them as someone who has an opportunity.”

UTEP receives high ratings

For five consecutive years Hispanic Business magazine has recognized UTEP in its list of top ten engineering schools for Hispanics. The school was rated number one for three of those years.

Many students come from Mexico, and U.S. students attend partner universities in Mexico as exchange students. The college also has an exchange program with Canadian universities. Advance planning assures that all classes will transfer with full credit so that experience on another campus doesn’t slow progress towards a degree.

“Students have the experience of dealing with another culture,” says Ferregut. “They accustom themselves to working with students from all over the world, as well as south of the border.”

Interdisciplinary studies are encouraged; for example, teams work on highway projects that involve civil, electrical and computer engineers.

UTEP is home to NASA’s new research center

UTEP has special relationships with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and with aviation contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing. All three have intern and co-op programs with the school.

Students can also intern at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. A team working on safety for the International Space Station includes structural, electrical and industrial engineering students. Energy teams include electrical and mechanical engineers.

On campus, NASA’s new Center for Space Exploration Technology Research will be headed by associate professor of mechanical engineering Ahsan Chouduri. The center has been awarded $1 million a year for the next five years and will provide thirty-five positions for grad students to conduct research on the future of rocket engines, propulsion systems and propellants. In conjunction with the establishment of the center, the school is developing a masters degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace engineering.

Mining remains an influence

UTEP started as the State School of Mines and Metallurgy in 1913. The first class of twenty-seven students has grown to 2,323 undergrads and 368 grad students in the College of Engineering. As the school grew, the department has evolved into one among several at the college. The metallurgy program is now one of only four in the country.

The school’s mining background remains an influence on campus: Paydirt Pete is the college mascot; athletic teams began as the Ore Diggers, then the Muckers, before becoming the Miners.

Today, the College of Engineering offers undergrad degrees in civil engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, and metallurgical and materials engineering.

The graduate school offers a certificate in construction management as well as masters degrees in all the undergraduate areas plus several additional specialites: engineering with a focus on engineering education, computer engineering, environmental and manufacturing engineering, systems engineering and IT. PhD programs are offered in civil engineering, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, materials science and engineering, and environmental science and engineering.

Campus setting inspires architecture

UTEP architecture pays homage to Bhutan

UTEP architecture pays homage to Bhutan.The first dean’s wife noticed that the campus setting was similar to Bhutan’s rugged landscape as portrayed in an issue of National Geographic and influenced her husband’s decisions on the design of campus buildings. From that first building, Old Main, the theme has created a reflection of the Himalayan kingdom.

That early influence has led to a special relationship with the Kingdom of Bhutan. The school welcomes Bhutanese students, brings performers and artists to campus biennially to celebrate Bhutan Days, and has a collection of Bhutanese art, including tapestries and wood carvings.

Undergrads get research experience

Because the college started as an undergrad school, the faculty has traditionally included undergrads in research projects, writing and publishing research papers. That personal interaction between faculty and students pervades the educational experience at UTEP. “A culture has developed to work closely with students,” Ferregut says. “That is one of our assets.”

Mechanical Engineering Students

Mechanical Engineering Students work on a project in the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research.Most UTEP students hold jobs during school; engineering students typically work in engineering or related jobs. One of the highlights of commencement ceremonies for Golding is the moment when President Diana Natalicio asks all the students who worked during their college years to stand up. Few remain seated. He says, “Our students are highly sought after, and are richly deserving of their achievements.”

The college provides student services for peer, faculty and professional advising, help getting jobs, and guidance through paperwork and resolving campus issues. Internships and co-ops, scholarships and other relevant announcements are organized on a single website page.

UTEP partners with El Paso CC

The school received a Gold Successful Transfer Enhancement Program award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for its work with El Paso Community College. Engineering students can co-enroll in both institutions and earn equivalent credit because the same textbooks and course materials are used. In some cases, instructors and even exams are shared. UTEP also works with students unable to go straight for their bachelors after earning their associates.

“We see ourselves as one commuter station in a network, where students can get off at some stations and pick their education back up at a later time,” says Golding. “I don’t mind where a student goes and gets an education. I just want the students to go on and get an education because it will change their lives.”

Communication and leadership skills

UTEP grads have earned a reputation for hard work, and are actively recruited by industry nationwide. UTEP grads, like astronaut Danny Olivas, are finding their way to prominent positions in American life.

For half the students, English is a second language and the school encourages engineering students to improve their communication skills.

“Going to conferences and having papers published gives them a chance to practice communication skills,” Ferregut says. “And a published paper helps in the job market.”

A new cross-disciplinary program in “leadership engineering” is in development. Core engineering courses will be combined with business, ethics, philosophy and entrepreneurship, and graduates will study an engineering specialty at the masters level. The goal is to prepare engineers for industry leadership. A generous donor has provided ten years of funding for the program. The first group of students will start in the fall of 2011.

At UTEP, “We are about changing the face of engineering,” Golding declares.

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