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Questions and answers with Program Director Timothy Wick.

""Program Director Timothy Wick. Q: For years, the School of Engineering has promoted its programs as having a strong focus on design and hands-on learning. How is the B.S. in Engineering Design different from what has traditionally been offered?

Wick: It is true that even though the degree program is new, we are not creating an entirely new experience for the students in terms of what we teach. Rather, the program is intended to capitalize on the school’s existing strengths, emphasizing engineering design and interdisciplinary training. The difference for these students will be the flexibility to focus on disparate areas of study in a way that develops a highly adaptable skillset that can be applied to a variety of engineering or other career fields.

Q: How is this different from a General Engineering Degree offered at another university?

Wick: This is different in that students will be required to pick from very specific focus areas. There is nothing “general” about it, because the path a student chooses will be tailored to their specific goals. The wide variety of engineering minors that UAB offers will allow students to pick subject areas that suit their academic interests. However, it is important to note that this is not a “customized” degree. Students are still meeting rigid standards expected of all engineering students and will be completing the same core engineering courses completed by students in other engineering programs.

Q: Is there a possibility that this program will have a negative effect on enrollment in the existing engineering degree programs?

Wick: The B.S. in Engineering Design degree program arose from student and faculty desire to offer engineering training not currently addressed in the five existing B.S. engineering programs. While analyzing the need for a B.S. in Engineering Design, we recognized that this degree program might be very attractive to some of our current students, so yes; a current student may choose to change from one of the existing disciplines to the Engineering Design program. However, a student who plans to work in an industry served by the traditional engineering degrees would be best served by completing the degree in that department; and will be advised appropriately. However, there are an increasing number of companies—particularly start-ups—that are looking for a versatile engineer with a proven knack for innovation and design.

Another thing to consider is that we have transition between all of our undergraduate departments. Students transfer between engineering majors as they learn more about the disciplines and potential careers. We believe that this program will help us attract engineering students to UAB even though they may later enroll in one of the other disciplines offered in the School of Engineering.

We anticipate that this program will bolster the school’s overall retention rate. We lose highly capable students every year when they transfer from engineering to one of the sciences or other disciplines. In many cases, those students leave because they feel the curriculum is too restrictive or they don’t see themselves in the career fields most often associated with the engineering discipline they chose as a freshman or sophomore. By offering this degree, we expect to retain more of those students who can tailor their education to meet a wide range of career goals. They will still take the majority of their coursework from the existing classes in the five engineering departments, so the departments are not losing credit hours. And if this degree program keeps them enrolled in the School of Engineering and produces skilled graduates, it benefits all of our departments and makes our school stronger.

Q: The other undergraduate majors have a fast-track option where students can get graduate school credit while completing the undergraduate curriculum. Is that an option with Engineering Design?

Wick: Yes. The Engineering Design curriculum is a natural fit for our Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM) program, which has a track in Design and Commercialization. However, students in the Engineering Design program will work closely with faculty their advisor to complete their minor coursework and electives, so there is a possibility that they could complete requirements for one of the other fast-track master-degree programs. Those arrangements would need to be worked out individually with the students’ advisors and the graduate program directors on a case-by case basis.

Q: How is this program administrated? Is there going to be a Department of Engineering Design?

Wick: No. The Engineering Design core consists of three courses, plus six hours (two semesters) of a Capstone Design course, for a total of 15 credit hours. The engineering fundamentals courses (up to 22 hours), plus the courses for engineering minors, exist or will be developed in one of the five engineering departments. Therefore, the Engineering Design program will be run out of the Dean’s Office for the foreseeable future, using the existing advisors and advising procedures that are in place.