University of Wisconsin Stout | Wisconsin's Polytechnic University
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Doug Mell: Thanks for joining us for another summer version of About Stout. It is getting later in the summer and you can already feel the pace picking up around campus. We are joined today by Chancellor Sorensen, Provost Julie Furst-Bowe, and Richard Rothaupt, the newly appointed interim dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Welcome to you all.
Chancellor Charles Sorensen: Good to be here.
Mell: We’re going to start with a brief update from the chancellor and the provost about campus happenings, but our major topic area today is the upcoming meeting with the UW System Board of Regents on August 21 and 22. The regents are going to consider allowing us to implement a new bachelor degree program in computer engineering, and it’s a big deal on campus. But first of all, we’re going to talk about that big hole.
Sorensen: Oh, that big hole’s exciting, Doug.
Mell: First of all, where is the big hole?
Sorensen: Right by Jarvis Hall, just north of Jarvis Hall.
Mell: It’s an Olympic-sized swimming.
Sorensen: Yes, it’s going to be a big swimming pool in our great science building. (Laughing) That’s the start of a $43 million science complex that we’re developing, and it’s going to house our STEM college. It’s going to be the focus of science, engineering, mathematics.
Mell: Which is going to have a luxurious new office in it.
Sorensen: For the dean, that’s right. (Laughing) But it’s going to shift the focus of campus not only physically from north campus to the center of campus – we’ll have many for classes down there and the student body’s going to shift down there to take classes – but it’ll be the whole direction of the school we’re going – the polytechnic direction, the focus on good science and engineering and mathematics and how those interplay with one another. Not to exclude the other areas of the social sciences and humanities, but it is a focus of the polytechnic, and this big hole that we have out there is exciting, it’s an exciting dynamic for the campus and the future.
Mell: Do you get a sense, Rich, from the colleagues that you talk to, that they’re anticipating the completion of starting to fill in the big hole?
Rothaupt: People are really excited about it. The faculty are really fired up about having this brand new building and new fantastic labs and some nice classrooms, so it’s–.
Mell: It’s a lot of work, preparing for–.
Rothaupt: It’s a lot of hassle for two years. While the hole’s being dug, it’s going to be problems around campus and finding offices for displaced people with remodeling, but everybody’s looking past that, and it’ll be an excellent addition.
Mell: Now Julie, when I gave the opening, I talked about Rich being interim dean of the new STEM college. That is part of a realignment that you are in charge of. It began July 1. Time didn’t stand still. Things kind of went on. Do you want to explain how we’re aligned now and how it’s different from in the past?
Furst-Bowe: Well, sure, Doug. As of July 1 we have four new colleges. We have the STEM college, and Rich will be providing leadership for the STEM college. We’ve consolidated all of our various management programs, from business management, hotel restaurant management, service management, golf enterprise management into a new college of management, and Carol Mooney will be the dean of that college. We have brought together our education and human services health-related programs into the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, and Bob Peters will be providing leadership for that college, and then finally we have the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, and John Murphy will be the dean of that college.
Mell: As far as the realignment goes, is there some sort of overarching theme that you, the chancellor, others, try to use – kind of a guiding principle.
Furst-Bowe: Well, definitely. We wanted to group like programs together, so by putting the sciences, mathematics, computer science, engineering together, our outcome is that the faculty can work together on interdisciplinary projects, programs, grants and research.
Sorensen: I think, too, the College of Management was an exciting thing, because we’ve had management all over campus for a long time – good management programs. We didn’t have our college, and I think that region brings synergy as well to the whole area of management, which is a growth area for us, and for many schools throughout the country, so that’s exciting.
Mell: We just recently completed, basically, the start of a new strategic planning process for us, and with a visioning session that was held on campus; do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Sorensen: Well, it was exciting. We try to do this every five or six years, and we brought in about 80 or 90 stakeholders from all groups of stakeholders throughout – in campus and away from campus. We spent the better part of half a day talking about what we’ve done in the past, about what the polytechnic holds for us, and ask our stakeholders, “What do you think about who we are and where we’re going and what direction should we take?” And I think that’s very satisfying. Number one, we meet a lot of high-level people along the way, so it was a tremendous group to come on campus. I think the reaffirmation of what we’re doing here – the previous planning that led to a redefinition, a refining I think is a better word, about our mission into a polytechnic model is really satisfying. And some very, very good ideas came out of there. A theme of sustainability came out of there. It’s a market issue now. It’s no longer simply a fad. Sustainability’s a market issue that we have to address, and that was something that came out very loud and clear. Applied research for our faculty and student body was a very loud message, I think. We’re looking at a discovery center. We want to endow a center for research for our faculty, and outreach a corporate sponsor to research as well. So, we came away feeling very good with what we have done, and even better about what we’re going to be doing in the future.
Mell: What did you take away from the visioning session, Julie?
Furst-Bowe: Well, I think, basically the same concepts as the chancellor that I think we have a stakeholder group of alumni, employers and the local business community, tech college leadership, K12 leadership – very supportive of Stout, very supportive of the directions we’re going. They really like the polytech concept; they really like the new programs we’re bringing forward, including these engineering programs. It was a good day.
Mell: Rich, you were probably new. I don’t know if you participated in the first visioning session.
Rothaupt: No, this was my first one.
Mell: As a newbie to the process, what was your impression?
Rothaupt: Well, I know just sitting through it, the groups that I was involved with, I was impressed by –like the chancellor had mentioned – the strong support for the sustainability issues, and it wasn’t just for some kind of faculty initiatives. There was strong support from the students that were there participating. So, it’s a big area, and I’m expecting that it’s going to grow, and we’re going to be focusing a lot on it.
Mell: I was going to say, your college will probably be front and center as far as…
Rothaupt: There’s already talk of program development related to those areas – expanding the minor that we have in sustainability – that’s already generating all kinds of interest for students. So, it’ll be a big area.
Sorensen: Doug, I would mention, too, that the day following the visioning session, we had a two-day conference here on technology and science, and we had companies from around the state and from Minnesota here who’ve heard the very same thing. I talked to a half a dozen companies – the CEOs or senior VPs about what we’re doing, and they were excited about the polytechnic, and some said, “Boy, it’s about time a school stepped up to define itself in this way. We need that in the state, and we want to work with a school like Stout.” So, I think that all the planning that took place before and all the discussions we’ve had are really now coming to bear fruit for us.
Mell: I talked at the opening about being able to feel pace starting to pick up on campus. June’s over and we’re heading into August and the beginning of the school year, and we’re also heading into a school year that’s going to see, basically, sort of bursting at the seams as far as the freshman class goes.
Sorensen: Oh, indeed. The freshman class, we’ll probably have at least 1,650 freshmen this year. It’ll be our second highest class.
Mell: A hundred more than last year.
Sorensen: It’ll be our second highest class we’ve ever had, and I think that demonstrates the strength of our programs, I think, and the strength of our growing reputation at UW-Stout. And I think it demonstrates our key role in the region for providing great education and economic development as well.
Mell: Does it present some challenges. I mean, you’re in charge…
Sorensen: Only for the provost.
Mell: …you’re in charge of the academic area and making sure that all those new freshmen and returning sophomores, juniors and seniors get all the classes they want when they want them.
Furst-Bowe: The challenge, I think, is really more in the housing area. The residence halls have been filled to the brim. I think we’re doing fine in terms of the classroom situation. We use a block scheduling method for the freshmen, so every freshman that comes in and registers is insured that they will get English and math and speech and science and an introductory course in their major, no matter when they register, if they register in May or if they register next week. So, I think we can feel good that we’re giving freshmen a good start, relative to their program.
Mell: You must feel good about the numbers.
Furst-Bowe: The numbers are good. If we look at the specific majors, we see growth in many of the majors. We’re seeing fewer undecided students, which we think is a good thing as well.
Sorensen: You know, Doug, I look at the stats, we’re satisfied with the returning students. We have about 210 or maybe even more returning students than last year. That’s always a good indication that we have provided the kind of experience here that students want to come back to.
Mell: Well, let’s turn to the topic of the day, which is our proposal before the Board of Regents August 21 and 22. I thought maybe to start out, you could explain the proposal and then we’ll sort of go around the table and talk about it a little bit.
Furst-Bowe: Well, the proposal that we have before the Board of Regents is a proposal to offer a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, with a heavy focus in electrical engineering and computer hardware engineering. It’s not really a software engineering degree. Rich and the faculty in his college have put a lot of work into developing a very sophisticated curriculum, a curriculum that will meet the needs of area employers. In fact, they had a lot of input from employers as they developed the program. So we’ve really outlined how the program relates to our mission, our polytechnic identity. We’ve outlined the curriculum, all of the classes the students would take. We’ve listed all of the faculty that we would need to offer this program. We have some faculty. We just hired two new faculty members with the appropriate credentials to teach computer engineering. Facilities as well, so it goes through all of the needed facilities, and we have many of the facilities in place. I should add that we already have a concentration in computer engineering as part of our engineering technology program, so this is really elevating that concentration to a stand-alone degree, which we think will be very attractive to both students and to employers.
Mell: Why is this the right program for Stout at this time?
Sorensen: Well, I think if we go back to the polytechnic model that we’ve adopted, and the need for engineers in our society to be competitive worldwide – the world is flat – we’re competing with engineers from China, from India. We are seeing those areas just burgeon over there, and we have to match that. If we’re going to have a high tech, sustainable economy in this state or any state, then we’re going to have to have the kind of program to attract the creative class here, and then stay here. The Silicon Valley was built around this kind of creativity, this kind of programming and thinking, and once you have a density of young people, young minds – and older minds too – coming together, it attracts more, and that’s the idea – programs that are essential for the economy and that attract a creative, bright class of people that’ll come here and want to stay here, and we have a lot of good high tech companies in the area, from St. Croix over to Eau Claire, that I-94 corridor, and that’s what we have to serve. That’s going to be our peek, I think, in this whole area of development.
Mell: Rich, you’ve been working a lot with industry, businesses, etc., in the development of this program. Are they telling you that we definitely need to graduate more computer engineers and we definitely need to graduate more computer engineers in this neck of the woods?
Rothaupt: Uh huh. Just like the chancellor was saying, our programs in the STEM area and across campus are basically driven by needs in society and our region, so the demand that’s coming for engineering in general, and computer engineering specifically right now, is true. The Wisconsin area workforce development is saying that of the growth of the computer hardware engineers, two thirds of it is happening within our west-central Wisconsin region. So, it is a demand base that we’re putting this program forward, so it’s really needed in the area, and employers have been demanding it for years, and we’re trying to get it through.
Mell: Right now, if somebody wants to study computer engineering, as I understand it, they either have to go across the border into Minnesota or they have to go to southern Wisconsin, basically within 50 miles of the Illinois border. Why do they need it here if there are other alternatives in other places?
Sorensen: You know, Doug, one critical thing is we’re combining educational programming with economic development, and if you have corporations here, and we have a lot of them, some smaller some mid-size. But they want to rely upon the resources that we have – faculty resources. It’s very hard to go down to Madison, to Milwaukee, to Platteville. They want them here. They want to interface with them here. We have this discovery center idea – we want to create a center for applied research as an interface with a corporation, but you can’t have someone that’s 400 miles away, 300 miles away. The corporations want them next door so they can make the telephone call and walk over and talk to them. That’s one critical factor, I think.
Mell: And don’t students want to stay? I mean, everything we’ve heard says students want to stay within 100, 150 miles from home. They don’t want to go a long ways for school, right?
Furst-Bowe: Well, definitely we do find that most students want to attend a college or university within about an hour of where they live, and for some of them, it’s not just a matter of convenience. There are financial issues; they need to keep their part time job; they have family issues; the only way they can afford to go to college is if they live at home, so it’s definitely more than just a convenience factor.
Mell: And, if we send them to school over in Minnesota, what are the chances that they’re going to come back here and work?
Sorensen: They’ll stay in Minnesota.
Rothaupt: That’s just real true. People get comfortable where they’re going to school. Most of the focus for the career placement from the different schools are regional, so we’re not as likely to see those students come back into this area. So, it is important for the whole development of the region that we have an expansion of engineering programs in this area.
Mell: So, what is in front of the Board of Regents in August is basically the final step in a very long process. Could someone maybe just talk a little bit about how it got to this point?
Sorensen: Well, I’ll start, and Julie can step in, but this really began years ago. I’ve been here 20 years as chancellor now, and this was in the offering when I came. We had a big engineering study statewide when I came in ’88 saying that, do we need more engineering programs? Oddly, it became our first Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology program – manufacturing and engineering. We always had engineering technology and all kinds of other engineering technology programs, so it really began back in 1994 when we had the right to do our first ABET engineering program. So, we’ve been on that track, I think, for a long, long time, thinking about the first program, and then, as Rich said, assess the needs and the region and state. So now we have a polymer program that was approved in June. We’ll have this program approved hopefully in August, so we’ll have approved three, basically ABET programs with a very solid engineering and tech program too. So we’re becoming a real school of engineering, but we’ve had a mindset like this for 20 years.
Mell: We already have the money for the program, right? We have the money, we have the positions. The governor has signed off on it?
Furst-Bowe: Yup. During the last budget, the governor approved, as part of the UW System growth agenda, special funding for Stout to launch both this program and our new program in plastics engineering as well.
Mell: So, the governor has said it’s a good thing. The university president, Kevin Reilly, has said it’s a good thing, and we’ve already went ahead and hired faculty, right? Do you want to talk a little bit about your new faculty members?
Rothaupt: Well, we’re very excited about the faculty that we have brought in for the plastics and engineering, and also for computer engineering, so we’re bringing in years of experience and we’re very focused on having true industrial experience plus the academic degrees that go along with it, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the faculty that’s been hired.
Mell: Can you explain a little bit, Rich, in computer engineering you’re not writing code. Somebody graduates from this program, what are they going to be able to do?
Rothaupt: Well, this program focuses on the hardware aspects of computer engineering. One of the tenets of the program is design of embedded systems, and embedded systems are basically small computers that fit into everything from cell phones to your microwave – your automobile has a number of embedded computer systems within it, and these students would be able to design using those systems or design new ones, and how to incorporate those into, say, even various different automated systems in manufacturing environments. So, it will have, as Julie was saying, a very strong hardware focus, but there are also a number of classes that are from the computer science area that are already on campus in our applied math and computer science program. They’ll be taking many of those courses too, so it will have a breath of curriculum, but the main focus is on hardware.
Mell: We have done a lot of touring of companies in this part of the area in the last year or so, and I’m sure when you talk to those business people and others, they’re probably telling you they want this engineering degree.
Sorensen: We heard a real need for that as we’ve travelled really the last two years. In all honesty, this goes back at least a decade when this region, UW-Eau Claire and the city of Eau Claire, made a strong pitch for an engineering center here in the valley. That would have been outside the realm of any one school. We are an engineering school. The programs should come here. So, there’s been a need in the region for at least a decade, a pronounced need, a very vocal need by businesses and industry and the chambers and those areas.
Mell: How does this fit into our academic plan? Obviously you’ve laid out before the Board of Regents a pretty aggressive academic plan for now, and for the region. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, how this fits into our future academic plans?
Furst-Bowe: Well, I think it definitely fits into the academic plan. The academic plan really showcases all of the new program development that we hope will happen within the next two to five years. All of new colleges have programs in the pipeline. Rich’s college, again, has the two new engineering programs. They’re working collaboratively with our school of education for programs that are going to prepare science teachers and also a new program where you can be licensed as both a science and technology teacher, so it’s a good fit. We’re doing a lot of new programs in the STEM areas, preparing people for the business world, and also to work in the public schools, but we have other areas as well that we’re working on.
Sorensen: I think the exciting thing about what we’re doing at Stout, and maybe other areas nationwide too, is the collaboration between disciplines. The old style truly is dead, you can’t exist like that, and we see that here, that our new programs, principally collaborative programs – computer engineering, there’s a hard slice of computer engineering in there as well. That’s the excitement, how these things are coming together at the edges and creating new ideas for the 21st century.
Mell: Rich, how do you go about – you’re taking a concentration, you’re moving it to a major’s status, but still, there’s got to be a lot of curriculum development involved. How does that all work?
Rothaupt: There is a lot of curriculum development that will happen, and truthfully, a lot of times you hire the faculty, and since they are the experts at it, they get to develop the curriculum for it. We have a broad outline of what the courses will be, and the goals that we’ll accomplish within the program, but the curriculum will be written by the faculty, you know, with industry input and such.
Mell: Sure. Is there a model out there? I mean, we want our computer engineering program to be like the one offered here, or…?
Rothaupt: Well, we based it on a couple of different programs that we looked at across the nation. Some of the things we looked at in other universities we said that they had to have an industrial look to them off the campus. They needed to have on campus, also, an electrical engineering program because that brings many of the hardware features onto it. We didn’t want them just to be a computer science program, so I think it’s going to be a great match for the needs of the region here.
Furst-Bowe: We designed the program to be in accordance with the ABET accreditation standards, which is important for professional engineering programs, and frankly our program looks a lot like the computer engineering program at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. We did bring in a consultant from Rose-Hulman to review the proposed curriculum.
Mell: So there’s been a lot of work on this. Somebody graduates from this program, I assume we’re going to make sure that they’re going to have experience in the field before they leave campus, so they’re going to be an experienced…
Rothaupt: One of the requirements or at least a very strong encouragement within almost every program on campus is some kind of external experience – a co-op, internship – and this program will be no different. It’s such an advantage for a student to have a co-op experience. They get higher salaries for starting out; they get more job offers; they have just much broader opportunities. And plus, they get so fired up after they complete the co-op; they come back saying everything you are teaching is real. So they just become more enthused about the whole school process.
Sorensen: Doug, there’s one point of that – about 80 percent of our students take part in some kind of co-op, internship, student teaching experience. We’re going to challenge the faculty this fall to make that a graduation requirement for every program, because our placement at 95 percent comes directly back to this kind of experiential learning. There’s only one school in the country right now, and that’s Northeastern in Boston, requires that as a graduation requirement, and I think we can make a real mark, a real statement about who we are as a polytechnic by saying every student is going to have this, because, as Rich said, it’s such a rich experience for everyone – the companies hiring, the school district with the agency and the students involved.
Mell: You probably see a lot of support for this computer engineering program.
Sorensen: Oh, absolutely.
Mell: Momentum West, their academic development agency has passed a resolution. We have a very strong letter from our two state legislators Sheila Halsdorf and John Murtha that are supporting it, and you’ve gotten letters or are at least in the process of being written from industry.
Rothaupt: There are a number of companies that have offered and have already written letters in support of the program.
Mell: Well, I think that’s going to bring us to the end of this particular discussion unless anybody else has anything to add.
Sorensen: Just one more little thing, the turf that’s going down on the football field as we speak.
Mell: It is; that’s right. (Laughing)
Sorensen: A brand new football field.
Mell: Yeah, we’re growing grass; we’re growing grass as we speak. It never will need watering. Well, thanks for joining us for the summer version of About Stout. I appreciate you all three being here. If you have any questions about this program or any other issues, please call my office, University Communications. Its number is going to be on screen, and we’re going to get you to the right person. We’re going to be back after school begins with lots of students on campus – we’re going to be bursting at the seams – with another edition of About Stout.