UNC board approves engineering degree for WCU

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has authorized Western Carolina University to offer the bachelor of science degree in engineering, a strategic step in WCU’s efforts to help meet the needs of Western North Carolina business and industry.

Approval of the BSE degree for Western Carolina came as part of the Board of Governors meeting Friday, Feb. 10.

The new stand-alone program, spinning off from WCU’s existing bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering (the BSEE) offered jointly with UNC Charlotte since 2004, is made possible by the strong foundation built by that partnership, WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said.

“UNC Charlotte has been an extraordinary partner for Western Carolina University,” Belcher said. “Our colleagues there have helped tremendously in strengthening engineering offerings in Western North Carolina, and we appreciate their willingness both to take us under their wing and to let us fly on our own.”

Through the plan approved by the Board of Governors, WCU will take a generalist approach to its engineering offerings, with a common core of coursework in mathematics, science and engineering augmented by concentrations in specific specializations.

Because of WCU’s existing program in electrical engineering, the initial area of concentration for the BSE degree will be in that discipline. “Additional areas of concentration will be added over time, based upon industry demand, and, thus, the BSE degree allows WCU to be nimble and responsive to the changing needs of students, business, industry and regional economic trends,” Belcher said.

The transition from the BSEE degree to the BSE, to begin during the 2012 fall semester, requires no new funding, faculty, laboratories, equipment, courses or library resources because all the elements are in place from the current electrical engineering degree.

In recent years, WCU has assumed responsibility for offering an increasing portion of the curriculum in its joint BSEE program with UNC Charlotte. For the 2011-12 academic year, all courses in the program are being led by faculty from WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology.

“The number of classes now being offered by UNC Charlotte and the numbers of students being taught by our campus are quite modest,” UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip L. Dubois said in a letter of support for the stand-alone program. “They no longer justify the administrative costs of running a joint program when that program can be administered effectively by a single campus. I believe that students will be well-served by a simpler structure.”

Only two other UNC institutions offer the BSE degree – East Carolina University and N.C. State University – while N.C. State also offers a concentration in mechatronics on its Raleigh campus and through a joint program with UNC Asheville.

The move to a stand-alone program at WCU comes after its electrical engineering curriculum was accredited last year by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, a widely recognized accrediting body for college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering and technology.