Clarksville, TN – “When will Austin Peay State University offer an engineering degree?”
Since the early 1960s, prospective students and area manufacturers have asked that question, and today (May 11th, 2017), the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) finally provided them with an answer.During its quarterly meeting, THEC approved Austin Peay’s first engineering program, allowing the University to begin offering a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E.) degree, with a major in Engineering Physics next fall.
“I know people, alums from back in the 1960s, who came to Austin Peay to studypre-engineering and ended up with a degree in physics or mathematics,” Dr. Jaime Taylor, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, said. “I even came to Austin Peay in 1986 as a student wanting to do pre-engineering. This is a really big deal.”
The University’s lack of an engineering program often sent potential students to other schools, and for the last fifty years, APSU officials have worked to add that degree to Austin Peay’s list of offerings. Instead of developing an entire College of Engineering—a near impossible feat that would require millions of dollars and the creation of several new departments—Taylor said the new program will be housed under APSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, within the APSU College of Science and Mathematics. That department currently has two licensed professional engineers on its faculty—Dr. Russ Longhurst and Dr. Chester Little.
“We have a very strong physics program at Austin Peay, and we’re leveraging that and growing it with this program, which is the next logical step,” Longhurst, associate professor of physics, said. “We’re leveraging our strength, and we hope to recruit the same types of students.”
The 120-credit hour degree program will familiarize students with multiple engineering disciplines, such as mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering, while focusing heavily on engineering design. The new degree fits perfectly with the college’s existing Department of Physics and Astronomy and its Department of Engineering Technology
“Engineering physics is the glue that brings the two together,” Dr. Alex King, chair of the APSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, said. “Someone with an engineering technology degree focuses on the daily running of equipment, making sure it doesn’t break down. An engineer does something more design related. The physics bit is, ‘Hey there’s this principal, we should be able to make a machine that does that.’ The engineering physics piece in the middle is we now get to build that machine.”
Austin Peay will be one of the few university’s in the country that offers an engineering physics degree, which will prepare students for numerous types of jobs in the engineering field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a national shortage of trained engineers has led to a demand of more than two million jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics related occupations.
Local manufacturers have approached the University for years about developing an engineering program, and the demand for this type of program is expected to grow. According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, “Advanced manufacturing job creation in Tennessee far outpaces national growth, at 27.1 percent job growth in Tennessee compared to 8.7 percent nationally from 2010 to 2015.”
“This program will put us in a good position to provide graduates for those new companies coming to town, both in recruiting new companies and helping the ones that are here,” Longhurst said. “Our vision is to have really good relations with local industry, with our students working for them.”
King said they anticipate enrolling about 15 students this fall for the new program, with that number increasing steadily every year. The University will also seek accreditation through the American Board of Engineering and Technology for the program.