June 21, 2016

by Lisa Proulx

PORTSMOUTH – Engineering continues to be near the top in terms of numbers of job listings by employers as we progress in the 21st century.

New technologies are creating jobs in alternative energies and natural resources, as the world adapts to rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.  Advances in health care are predicated on new devices and software designed by biomedical engineers. Genetic research has progressed so much, a cure for cancer is a realistic goal “in my lifetime or my children’s lifetime, and that excites me,” said Rudis, who chairs the math department at Great Bay Community College.

“And these are jobs that pay well, in specialties that have some of the highest growth rates in the modern economy,” she said. “We’re in the right place at the right time.”

To prepare New Hampshire students for professions in new technologies and careers close to home, Great Bay is launching two new associate degree programs, in bioengineering and engineering science. The changes expand Great Bay’s engineering degree options from one to two, and provide a structured and affordable pathway to a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Rudis, who helped Great Bay rewrite and realign its core STEM curriculum to support the new degree programs, said the school expects the changes will boost engineering enrollment 20 percent in five years.  That goal aligns with the larger mission of the Community College System of New Hampshire to ensure 65 percent of adults 25 and older in New Hampshire will have some post-secondary education by 2025.

The new curriculum closely aligns with the engineering requirements of bachelor-degree students at the University of the New Hampshire.  It strengthens sophomore-level classes in science, technology, engineering and math, and allows students the option to take a cluster of courses related to composite manufacturing at Great Bay’s Rochester campus.

Both programs meet a majority of the first- and second-year baccalaureate requirements for math, chemistry, biology and physics, as well as engineering principles that form the foundation of bioengineering. Faculty from the UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences consulted with Great Bay on the curriculum, Rudis said. 

The changes mean students who complete a two-year associate’s degree in engineering at Great Bay can transfer to UNH and reasonably expect to have a bachelor’s degree two years later, Rudis said. Previously, Great Bay transfer students would have to take three years of classes at UNH for a bachelor’s degree.

Bioengineering is a new specialty, and takes advantage of Great Bay’s faculty depth in biology, biotechnology and chemistry. Bioengineering students combine chemical engineering and biotechnology studies. Bioengineering has the highest rate of job growth among engineering disciplines.

The engineering science degree is a general program, and appeals to students interested in a variety of engineering fields. A generation ago options for study of engineering at the bachelor’s level were limited to: industrial, mechanical, civil, chemical and electrical. Today, those options have basically doubled with growth in alternative energies, new technologies and environmental engineering. “Engineering used to be thought of as robots, rockets and cars. Engineering today is energy, genetics, biotechnology and so much more,” Rudis said.

Great Bay administrators hope a more robust engineering program will give New Hampshire students incentive to study at home. The community college system offers a low-cost pathway to four-year degrees at a fraction of the cost, Rudis said.

In addition to its affordability, Great Bay’s strengths are its quality of faculty and small class sizes. The Great Bay faculty includes professors with doctoral degrees, doctoral-level research experience, and adjunct appointments at UNH. Most classes are 20 students or fewer, and Great Bay offers real-world learning opportunities. “I feel strongly that we should give students hands-on experiences as early as possible,” Rudis said.

Ellen Ball, a Great Bay student from Epsom, N.H., expects to earn an associate’s degree in bioengineering in 2017 and transfer to UNH. She chose Great Bay for her first two years of study to avoid building student-loan debt. She liked science and math in high school, and chose bioengineering because of the career prospects. “I’m seeing more possibilities unfold that seemingly didn’t exist before,” Ball said.

Central to Great Bay’s motivation for retooling its engineering studies is the Community College System’s embrace of the initiative 65 by 25, which aims to ensure that 65 percent of adults in New Hampshire have some form of post-secondary education by 2025. Achieving that goal will help New Hampshire maintain economic growth and healthy employment as well as making New Hampshire attractive to tech companies, Rudis said.