Laura Walsh 2017-04-27 01:54:06
The University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UW-River Falls) welcomed 22 students into its new agricultural engineering program in fall 2016. The new program was an outgrowth of the Northwest Wisconsin Engineering Consortium, a joint effort by UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire, and UW-Stout to bring a range of engineering programs to western and northern Wisconsin. This collaborative effort was a response to the many small and mid-size companies, as well as local operations of global corporations in northwestern Wisconsin, that have had a difficult time attracting and retaining graduates of engineering programs from outside the region. The Consortium campuses are taking a rational approach to adding new engineering programs, including offering a common first-year core curriculum that allows students to transfer freely between programs if they choose. Until the Consortium was established, the only UW campuses with engineering programs were clustered in the southern part of the state, 200 miles from the Consortium campuses. UW-River Falls chose to add an agricultural engineering program to complement its long-standing, successful program in agricultural engineering technology. The two programs are housed in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. The River Falls campus, with an enrollment of just under 6,000 students, is well known for its agriculture programs and is a destination for students in the region who are looking for these programs at a smaller campus. A drawing card Students in the new ag engineering program confirm that they were drawn to UW-River Falls because they had heard about our agriculture programs or they were specifically looking for an ag engineering program and preferred a smaller school. One concern was whether the new program at UW-River Falls would divert students from the other ag engineering program in Wisconsin, at UW-Madison. Both campuses were pleased to discover that did not happen. The Department of Biological Systems Engineering at UWMadison enrolled its largest-ever freshmen class last fall, despite the new program at UW-River Falls. The university showed its commitment to the new program by providing funds to renovate and upgrade laboratory spaces, purchase new equipment, and hire additional faculty. For a small campus, the department is fortunate to have nearly 20,000 ft2 of laboratory space in the Agricultural Engineering Annex, which is connected to the larger Agricultural Sciences building. Over 4,500 ft2, encompassing two laboratories and an additive manufacturing space, were renovated in summer 2016. Formal planning will start this spring to renovate a similar-size space in 2018. With the addition of a new faculty member in fall 2016, there are now five engineering faculty on staff, with plans to add another by fall 2018. The faculty members have expertise in agricultural engineering, mechanical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, bioprocess engineering, and biosystems engineering. Together, the faculty has more than 25 years of industry experience, ensuring that the new program will be industry relevant. There are no teaching or laboratory assistants; faculty members teach all the lecture and laboratory sessions, including laboratory sessions that take place at the university farm or in one of the three food processing pilot plants on campus. Industry connections Our successful program in agricultural engineering technology has prided itself on strong industry ties, bolstered by a long-standing internship program in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. Industry support was key to getting approval for the new ag engineering program. This partnership will help ensure that the ag engineering program remains industry relevant. Oxbo International and GEA Process Engineering were among the industry advocates for the new program. Oxbo is a world leader in specialty harvest equipment for niche markets (olives, berries, coffee, peas, etc.) with a facility in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. GEA Group AG (the parent company of GEA Process Engineering) is headquartered in Germany and is one of the largest suppliers of process technology for the food industry. Their facility in Hudson, Wisconsin, focuses on membrane filtration and is the technology center for their global filtration business. Accreditation on the horizon Accreditation is important for engineering degrees, regardless of the field. Following the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) process, accreditation will not be formally granted until our first class of students completes the ag engineering program and meets the degree requirements. The faculty members are working with accreditation coaches to help ensure that the new program will be granted ABET accreditation when those first students graduate in 2020. When this goal is met, UW-River Falls will be the 40th school in the U.S. to offer an ABET-accredited program in agricultural or biological engineering. Realizing that there are synergies between engineering programs, UW-River Falls had originally requested permission to add both an agricultural engineering program and an environmental engineering program. Both programs would align well with our existing facilities, faculty expertise, and the curriculum of the agricultural engineering technology program. All three campuses in the Consortium requested multiple engineering programs, but in the end each campus was given permission to add a single program, with the option to request another program in the future if the first program is successful. With the success of our new ag engineering program, UW-River Falls intends to pursue a second engineering program as soon as possible. Laura Walsh, Administrative Program Manager, College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, UW-River Falls, Wis., USA, email@example.com, www.uwrf.edu/cafes. MEET MEMBERS OF THE INAUGURAL AGRICULTURAL ENGINEERING CLASS Virginia Lee — Mequon, Wisconsin “I knew some students who had gone to UW-River Falls, and I knew that I wanted a smaller school with an agriculture program. When I visited, I immediately loved the campus! I was in 4-H but didn’t grow up on a farm—but I’m not letting that keep me away from agriculture. My passion is fighting world hunger and thirst, and through our Intro to Engineering class, I’ve learned about local career opportunities connected to international work. In just these past few months, I’m more encouraged and more excited about my career choice.” Julia Rogers — St. Paul, Minnesota “I was a bit familiar with UW-River Falls, but I chose to come here because of this program. I’m very interested in how food can be produced using fewer resources. In our Intro to Engineering class, we had to write a mock undergraduate research proposal. I submitted mine to one of the programs on campus, and it was funded! I’ll be working with one of the faculty on this project—small-scale aquaponics production.” Madison Schochenmaier — Waconia, Minnesota “I like the mechanical side of agricultural engineering and working with machinery. I wanted a smaller school and found UW-River Falls through a Google search. So far, I’ve found the faculty easy to talk to. Because it’s a smaller program, I can get to know everyone, and I know people I can go to when I have questions. I’ve already been offered the opportunity to work as the student lab technician in the 3D printing lab.” Matthew Wech — Green Bay, Wisconsin “I checked out other campuses, but knew I wanted a smaller school. There are few small schools that offer agricultural engineering. I like the smaller classes, getting to know the faculty, and being comfortable asking for their help. My particular interests are mechanical systems, biofuels, and energy.”
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