School of Engineering Experiencing Growth

Following graduation, University of Mississippi Chemical Engineering students are prepared to provide solutions to real-world problems in fields as varied as biomedical engineering, personal-care products, petroleum and natural gas, pharmaceutics and materials processing.
Following graduation, University of Mississippi Chemical Engineering students are prepared to provide solutions to real-world problems in fields as varied as biomedical engineering, personal-care products, petroleum and natural gas, pharmaceutics and materials processing.

Enrollment up 132 percent over 10 years; geology and geological engineering program becomes nation’s largest

With yet another surge in enrollment, the University of Mississippi School of Engineering has emerged as one of the fastest-growing engineering schools in the nation.

Over the past decade, undergraduate enrollment has increased an astounding 132 percent. Since 2003, the number of undergraduate students in the engineering school grew from 553 to 1,285 this fall, preliminary figures indicate. Also, the school’s program in geology and geological engineering has become the nation’s largest accredited program in the field.

Engineering school Dean Alex Cheng said staff have not advertised or recruited intensively during the growth spurt.

“Word of mouth seems to be the biggest contributor to our growth,” Cheng said. “They heard from other students who told them that they can receive an outstanding education here.”

Along with enrollment, ACT scores and high school GPAs of incoming freshmen have risen. The average ACT score went from 24.0 in 2008 to 25.8 in 2013. During that same period, the average GPAs moved from an average 3.27 to 3.55 in 2013.

In addition to the overall bump in engineering enrollment, three departments within the school have more than doubled their size. Preliminary figures indicate geology and geological engineering has grown from 89 students to 264, outdistancing other national programs. Chemical engineering‘s enrollment rose from 76 students to 194, many of whom are also members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. The number of mechanical engineering students has risen from 128 in 2008 to 306 students this fall.
Administrators and professors offered their explanations for the jumps in their enrollments.

“At least four factors contributing to the phenomenal growth of our program,” said Gregg Davidson, chair and professor of geology and geological engineering. “They are a general surge in university enrollment, scholarships that waive out-of-state tuition for students from surrounding states that lack a geological engineering program, the opportunities our students have for class field trips around the South and Southwestern states, and, most importantly, the close community that exists within our program among students and between the students and faculty.”

Similar factors were cited by administrators in the other two departments.

“In three years, the chemical engineering program has increased 100 percent,” said Clint Williford, chair and professor of chemical engineering. “We attribute this growth to three factors: our reputation for offering students a personal, quality educational experience; the recession, which refocused many high school students’ attention on the major as a road to a rewarding career and financial security; and Ole Miss being one of the best buys in institutions of higher learning.”

The vast majority of chemical engineering graduates had either secured employment or admission to graduate schools by the time they received their degrees in May, Williford said. “Seventy percent had jobs and 20 percent had been admitted to graduate schools. The remaining 10 percent have found jobs since then.”

Mechanical engineering’s undergraduate enrollment is nearly three times what it was five years ago.

“We are getting high-quality high school students,” said Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering. ”In last five years, our students won the Mississippi Engineering Society’s Outstanding Senior student awards for the School of Engineering.

“A new freshman from Madison received the prestigious Stamps scholarship, and in 2011, an ME senior became a Fulbright Scholar,” he said.

The importance of the faculty-student relationship remains a major influence in students’ decisions to study at UM.

“The ME department has always prided itself on quality teaching and one-on-one personal interaction with students,” said James Chambers, associate professor of mechanical engineering and senior scientist in UM’s National Center for Physical Acoustics. “Dr. Raj came on board a few years back, and his unbelievable dynamism took it to the next level. His constant interaction with students, getting faculty buy-in on changes to the department and his commitment to the alumni and rest of the ‘Rebel nation’ caught on and blossomed into an explosion of new students.”

Chambers agreed that the economic downturn four years ago was a turning point.

“Students that normally might have gone out-of-state took another look inward and realized the quality and value that was close to home,” he said. “Those students came, word spread and we are now seeing a steady stream of new students that has hopefully bumped up our enrollment numbers for the long term.”

Historically, the engineering school has nurtured many leaders, not only in the engineering profession, but others as well. A number of successful alumni attribute their success to the rigorous education in engineering fundamentals that made their career flexible and the close student-teacher relationship.

“What the School of Engineering did in the last decade was to maintain and enhance such characteristics during the period of growth,” Cheng said. “We also emphasized a student-centered culture by providing friendly student service and advising by faculty and staff. We encouraged student leadership and promoted and provided service opportunities.”

To learn more about the UM School of Engineering, visit http://www.engineering.olemiss.edu.

Edwin Smith, Ole Miss News Desk

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