A new academic department at Drury University is on tap to launch in fall 2024.
Applications are now being accepted for its Department of Engineering, which will offer bachelor’s degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering.
“We’ve been discussing and planning these engineering programs for over two years,” said Beth Harville, executive vice president and provost at Drury. “We are excited to add this new academic area to Drury to meet our students’ interests, to provide workforce to our community and state, and also to graduate students with a little different additive skill set.”
Degrees in either program can be completed in four years with a maximum of 17 credit hours per semester, according to school officials.
The university’s recent announcement comes on the heels of this school year’s start of a new physician assistant studies program. It marks the first health-related master’s degree program offered by the school, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. That program was a roughly $2 million investment to cover salaries, equipment, and classroom and lab spaces.
While Harville declined to disclose estimated startup costs for the engineering department and its programs, she said it would be under $2 million.
“We’re still in the process of fundraising for this program,” she said.
Drury is currently amid a $50 million capital campaign, dubbed Fortify the Future, which has raised $31.5 million as of Aug. 31, said Drury spokesperson Jasmine Cooper. Planned use of the funding includes $20 million toward student scholarships and academic programs, according to past reporting.
The engineering department will hold some of its classes in the Trustee Science Center with another unidentified building to be used for a machine shop, as well as additional teaching and lab space.
“It’s a space that currently exists that will require some renovations,” Harville said. “We have two places under consideration and are narrowing in on them in the next few weeks on which will be the more desirable location for part of the program.”
The electrical engineering program will involve the study, design and application of electrical systems, electronics and electromagnetism, according to a news release. Areas of work for electrical engineers include cell phones, communications satellites, MRI scanners, pacemakers and robotics.
Focus for the mechanical engineering program will involve designing, analyzing and producing mechanical and thermal systems. Rocket ships, roller coasters, vehicles and wind turbines are just a few of the areas in which mechanical engineers apply their trade.
The department will be led by chair Bob Throne, who was hired in July from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he taught for 21 years. He served the past five years as head of the electrical and computer engineering department. Before Rose-Hulman, he spent 11 years as a professor at the University of Nebraska.
He holds bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. He’s also been a program evaluator for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology since 2013.
Throne said he talked with his wife, Lorraine Olson, about the opportunity at Drury to start his own program. Her educational and professional background is like Throne’s, as she holds a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT. She’s also taught at Rose-Hulman for 21 years, including five years as department head of mechanical engineering.
“It was a package deal,” Throne said of Olson also coming to Drury, where she will begin teaching in 2024. “We’re going to work to try and make the curriculum as integrated as we can. My wife and I tend to think a lot alike.”
Drury’s new department will add to local four-year colleges offering engineering courses. The options used to be nonexistent a little over a decade ago, said Adam Toth, executive president at engineering firm Toth and Associates Inc. Missouri State University and College of the Ozarks both offer engineering bachelor’s degrees, while Ozarks Technical Community College provides students an associate degree. In Rolla, roughly 110 miles northeast of Springfield, Missouri University of Science & Technology ranked first this month in Missouri by U.S. News and World Report in a list of top public engineering programs, according to a news release.
Toth said he was glad to hear Drury is adding to the local pool of students that will pursue engineering degrees. The local hiring need for the industry is “really strong,” he said.
“We don’t do very much recruiting outside of the Springfield area because kids that were raised in Springfield are the most likely to stay long-term,” he said. “The more Springfield-based kids we can get is great.”
The national demand for both electrical and mechanical engineers is faster than average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment for mechanical engineers is projected to grow 10% by 2032, while 5% growth is expected for electrical engineers. Median annual wage for electrical engineers was $103,320 in 2022, while mechanical engineers earned a median wage last year of $96,310, according to BLS data.
“There’s a shortage of engineers,” Toth said.
Still, his company is finding success increasing its workforce. The firm, which ranked No. 1 this year on SBJ’s list of the area’s largest engineering firms, reported 35 registered engineers and a total staff of 158 in July. In the past two months, those numbers have jumped to 39 engineers and 184 employees, Toth said.
“We’re hiring lots of people,” he said, noting the current employee count is an all-time high and he expects it will surpass 200 next year.
Toth said some of the reasons for the increased demand are that a lot of older engineers are retiring and more infrastructure has been built in recent years.
“Plus, there (are) lots of tech companies that hire engineers,” he said. “So, you have this whole new industry that is putting pressure on engineering.”
As Drury’s engineering department awaits its start, the total staff size is still to be determined, Harville said.
“It will depend on how many students we have,” she said. “We anticipate more than 20, but for a new program that is a pretty realistic starting point. After the first year, we expect to see pretty significant growth when we can show what’s happening that’s different and new in these programs as opposed to just telling what the plans are.”
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