Engineering program starts this fall
By Drew Sottardi
That’s the modest enrollment goal Loyola set last year for its new engineering science program. But after receiving more than 600 applications—and counting—the program was expanded and hopes to start with close to 50 students this fall.
• Loyola will be just the 10th Jesuit university in the country with an engineering program.
• It’s also one of only four Chicago-area universities to offer an undergraduate degree in engineering.
So much for modest goals.
“We made a conscious decision to start small because we weren’t sure how many students we would get,” said Gail Baura, PhD, director of Loyola’s engineering science program. “But honestly, having hundreds of applications for a brand-new program is a good problem to have.”
To meet the increased demand, Baura is hiring three full-time professors—and she’ll teach classes as well. That’s nothing new for Baura, who has written four engineering textbooks and taught at the Claremont Colleges in California for nearly a decade before coming to Chicago. She has also evaluated engineering programs for accreditation since 2003 and is currently an ABET Engineering Accreditation Commissioner. What is new, however, is the opportunity to build a program from the ground up.
“I moved all the way from California because I believe in this program,” she said. “My undergraduate degree is from Loyola Marymount, and that’s why I came here: I wanted to start an engineering program at another Jesuit university.”
A hands-on approach
Loyola’s new program will be modeled after two highly regarded engineering schools: Harvey Mudd College in California and the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts. Those schools are successful, Baura said, because they focus on system theory and engineering design, and they have their students work on open-ended group projects.
At Loyola, students will do plenty of hands-on learning to prepare themselves for careers after college.
“I worked in the industry, so I want to make sure that the program we develop is as practical as possible,” said Baura, who was a medical device industry executive and researcher and holds 20 issued U.S. patents. “The more you practice, the better you’ll be at conducting engineering design.”
Students who complete Loyola’s program will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in engineering sciences, with a focus in one of three areas: biomedical, computer, or environmental engineering. In the biomedical specialization, for instance, students will work with pacemakers and patient-monitoring devices during their lab experiments. That valuable hands-on time will prepare them for careers as developers who design and test medical device software, Baura said.
“If you’re going to learn about all these different devices, I think you should use them,” she said. “But very few programs use actual medical devices. I believe you should be learning with the same devices you’ll be working on when you graduate.”
Impressive job numbers
Over the last 10 years, undergraduate enrollment in engineering programs across the nation has grown more than 20 percent, Baura said. So what’s driving that demand?
“Students want jobs when they graduate,” she said, “and they know they can get them in engineering.”
The facts back her up.
According to a 2013 Georgetown University report, the unemployment rate for a recent graduate with a general engineering degree was 7 percent, one of the lowest rates among the 16 groups of majors included in the study. Equally impressive was the pay. According to the same report, the median salary for recent engineering graduates was between $55,000 and $57,000—the highest in the study.
Baura is quick to point out, however, that getting an engineering degree isn’t easy. It requires a lot of hard work and discipline. And plenty of math.
“I always ask students if they like math,” she said. “If you don’t really like math, this probably won’t be for you. But if you do like math and science and solving problems, engineering is the perfect major.”
• Visit the Engineering Sciences website for more details, including curriculum and student outcomes.
• Contact Gail Baura at firstname.lastname@example.org to tour new exhibits related to the curriculum in Cuneo Hall.