“Engineering degrees in Europe typically take five years to complete – the equivalent of a master’s degree here – and the students with those degrees end up better prepared to go to work without requiring additional on-the-job training,” said Malcolm Spaulding, URI professor of ocean engineering who designed the URI program. “Because of the structure of the U.S. higher education system, our bachelor’s degree students aren’t comparably prepared to compete with these international students, and they lose out in the job market.”
Spaulding said that he frequently hears from engineering companies that U.S. students need to develop better project management skills, teamwork skills, and begin the process for professional licensure before entering the workforce. He said that industry needs workers who can look at the larger context of problems they are facing.
“The U.S. is getting further and further behind,” Spaulding said. “If the education system doesn’t respond to this need, we’re just passing along the cost of this additional education and training to industry, and the students are hindered in the process.”
The new URI program, launched as a pilot for ocean engineering students during the 2009-2010 school year, requires students to take courses in project management and systems engineering and enroll in nine credits of research experience working on a faculty research project or in a project with an industry or agency partner.
“The research project has to be more than what would take place in a typical internship or research assistantship; the student must identify a cutting-edge, innovative project that integrates their engineering skills and applies them to an important problem in an industry,” Spaulding said. “And it must culminate in the preparation of a significant final report.”
In addition, students who enroll in the accelerated B.S./M.S. program are required to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, a nationally sanctioned exam that is the first step toward acquiring professional licensure and which is administered by the state board of engineering.
Four URI ocean engineering students entered the program last September, and the application process for next year’s class is under way. Students enroll during their junior year and must have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and 3.2 in their engineering courses.
The other academic disciplines in the URI College of Engineering are currently developing the requirements for their accelerated degree programs and are expected to enroll students in the fall of 2011.
“No other engineering program in the country is going after this professional practice degree,” said Spaulding. “We are the leaders in this initiative. Our intent is to make sure our students are ready to go to work and show industry that they can pay for themselves immediately.”
The URI Ocean Engineering program was the first academic program of its kind in the country when it was established in 1966. It currently enrolls 125 undergraduate and 40 graduate students.
For more information, contact Malcolm Spaulding at Spaulding@oce.uri.edu or 401-874-6666.