Northern Illinois University and Rock Valley College are working to expand an engineering degree program designed to keep talent from leaving the state.
This fall will be the third semester for the mechanical engineering partnership between NIU and RVC. It means students can complete a degree without setting foot on NIU’s main campus in DeKalb. Classes are taught at RVC’s Woodward Technology Center by faculty from both schools.
“Every year, we have about 6,000 graduates who are leaving the state of Illinois,” said Mansour Tahernezhadi, NIU’s senior associate engineering dean. “How can we have homegrown talent? Rockford is a good national model that a community college and a major university can work hand in hand to provide educational services to the community.”
He says the program comes in response to demand from Rockford engineering companies that wanted to work more closely with the next generation of engineers.
The initiative raised most of its original $6 million dollar goal. More labs will be outfitted over the summer.
Project manager Matt Gonser said class projects focus on practical applications.
“It would be things like a wind speed sensor on an airplane, for example, and communicating to the electronic systems of an airliner,” Gonser said.
Tahernezhadi says the programs are meant to teach and keep a unique skill set in Illinois.
“We have a different story to tell. Traditionally, engineering programs are taught by heavy theoretical, research-oriented faculty members. Here we have a program that’s being taught by faculty members who are more in tune with the needs of industry. As we speak, we are running kind of an experiment of student learning outcomes,” he said.
More than a dozen students took part in the first few classes. Organizers hope to keep adding to that number this fall.
Credit: Jenna Dooley, WNIU/WNIJ Radio