Negotiating an engineering treaty

June 22, 2006, 9:34 am

I’ve been put in charge of developing a “3+2″ engineering program between my (small liberal arts) college and a local big university. I’m excited about the prospect of getting such a program going — really. I was involved with a similar program at my previous college, and we were able to pull in some fantastic students who would have never otherwise come to the school. I’m in favor of anything that increases the number of geeks at my college and raises the level of academics here.

But the administrative side of getting this program started is getting pretty daunting:

  • Yesterday I got several emails forwarded to me from the contact person at the big university describing all the changes that had been made to the Electrical Engineering program — in the past two years. Evidently they put in new courses and remove old ones at will, and frequently. There was a specific note saying that courses are entering and exiting the curriculum all the time. Whereas, it takes practically an act of Congress to make significant changes to our curriculum.
  • About halfway through the program, students begin to take courses at the big university. There are certain semesters where students would carry an 18-hour courseload — with 9 hours here and 9 hours there. Does that make them a full-time student? Where exactly are they a student? Can they even make the schedules work?
  • The Mechanical Engineering program that was given to me just consists of a list of courses — no indication of when they are offered, how often they are offered, or what is a prerequisite for what. I’m beginning to get that info from the people at the big university, but it’s a far cry from my college where EVERYTHING is sequenced just so, and we don’t have the resources to just offer stuff whenever we want it. (Even Calculus III and Differential Equations are only offered every other year, whereas at a place like the big university there are usually half a dozen sections running at all times.)

One gets the feeling of trying to negotiate a trade treaty with a recently-arrived alien spacefleet. Not that the big university is scary and bad — on the contrary, they’ve been very accomodating and enthusiastic — but the cultural differences are just huge.

Later, I’ll share some thoughts about how I plan to get students to actually sign up for this program — even though 90% of the non-math-major students I have advised in the past are scared out of their minds of taking math and science courses.

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