In the relatively short history of online education, the UAB School of Engineering has established itself among the best in the nation. In the 2017 U.S. News & World Report rankings, released on Tuesday, UAB was ranked 28th overall in online engineering graduate programs and 14th in online graduate programs for veterans.
The online master of engineering program is among five UAB graduate online programs that appear in the rankings, joining programs from the Collat School of Business, the School of Education, and the School of Nursing. Additionally, the university was rated No. 63 overall for its offerings of online bachelor’s degree programs, which puts UAB in the top 27 percent in the nation.
“At a school that has always stood for innovation, our online graduate engineering tracks are a real point of pride,” says School of Engineering Dean Iwan Alexander, Ph.D. “By its very nature, education demands that we adjust to keep pace with technology and online habits of our students, and these latest rankings show that our faculty members are on the right track with the ways they continue to develop their online curricula.”
Adapting to a Virtual Classroom
UAB’s online engineering programs have received rave reviews over the years from alumni for not only the quality of training, but also the ability of instructors to connect with students in meaningful ways. UAB’s two newest MEng programs are led by instructors who continue to teach traditional, on-site courses while also leading graduate online programs.
Jason Kirby, Ph.D., leads the Sustainable Smart Cities master’s program, while Christopher Waldron, Ph.D., leads the Civil Structural Engineering program. They were both asked to share their thoughts on the challenges of adapting to a new educational format.
The School of Engineering currently offers a master of engineering (MEng) degree in five different online tracks:
- Advanced Safety Engineering and Management (ASEM)
- Construction Engineering Management (CEM)
- Civil Structural Engineering (CSE)
- Information Engineering and Management (IEM)
- Sustainable Smart Cities (SSC)
Three of the five tracks are located in the Department of Civil Construction and Environmental Engineering (CCEE), a fact that stems in large part to the early and sustained success of the department’s first online offering, CEM. According to CCEE Chair Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., “We launched the CEM track in 2008 on campus and moved to online instruction in 2009. The CEM reputation has grown steadily over the years, and as a result of that success, we started two additional tracks in 2015—CSE and SSC. Both are poised to serve the unique needs of professionals in those respective fields.”
CEM Director Wilbur “Bill” Hitchcock, Ph.D., says that while an innovative and world-class curriculum is essential, it is only one piece of his CEM’s sustained success. “Our vision when we started was to provide a stellar curriculum of study in Construction Engineering Management coupled with a culture of unsurpassed student engagement and care,” he says. “The rise in our U.S News and World Report ranking to 28th nationally is an encouraging recognition of our staff’s commitment and performance, along with the other online programs within the School of Engineering. We will continue to evolve to incorporate the best teaching technology and pedagogy with the hope to be recognized as a national elite program in our field of study. The key to our success is truly a unique team effort of our support staff and instructors working together to deliver an engaging quality graduate degree to our students. Dianne Gilmer, Fran Lefort, and Allen Murphree are committed professionals who embrace the culture of meeting online students when they need us most, and this sets UAB apart.”
“It is a true honor to be recognized and receive this ranking,” adds Gilmer, who serves as assistant director of the CEM program. “Dr. Hitchcock and I engage our students from the moment they express an interest in UAB; we mentor them through the curriculum to alumni status. We strive to deliver relevant, real world information and create an engaged learning community. Our student testimonials inspire us to come to work every day. We currently have students and alumni from 39 different states and 14 foreign countries. We know emphasis on student care and attention differentiates us from the competition. Our goal is continuous improvement to insure our students receive the best online education possible.”
While the new CCEE programs are geared toward professional engineers, some of online programs serve a broader audience. ASEM and IEM, for example, use strong engineering fundamentals to instruct professionals from a variety of backgrounds.
“We are focused on meeting the growth needs of working professionals, and because of that our program continues to grow in popularity,” says Dale Callahan, Ph.D., director of the IEM program. “We deliver what they need to know when they need and where they need it.”
“The Advanced Safety Engineering and Management (ASEM) track is celebrating its sixth year of educating students in the critically important field of safety,” adds Donald Burke, Ph.D., director of ASEM. “Our success lies in our continual effort to keep our courses updated and in-touch with what is required by industry by retaining excellent faculty members who are well-known in the field and are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge—as well as through word-of-mouth endorsement of ASEM by growing numbers of alumni who have experienced first-hand the benefits of completing the program.”