The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff will soon begin its bachelor of science program in engineering, pending approval from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
The University of Arkansas System board of trustees approved the program this week during a regular meeting in Mena. The move is historic as UAPB seeks to become just the 16th historically Black college or university (HBCU) in the nation with an engineering program with plans to begin offering it during the fall semester.
"We've been, I guess, very productive with our industrial technology program, so that now, the new program is the engineering aspect, and when you start thinking about engineering, that's the buzzword," said Charles Colen, chairman of the UAPB Department of Industrial Technology Management and Applied Engineering. "When you say industrial technology, most times people say, 'What's that?' But if I say engineering, people think they have an idea of what engineering really is. Engineering is more of the designing side of that aspect. How do I design it? Once I come up with that design, then how do I get it to the masses? It ties all together."
Colen said the state higher education department will vote July 28 whether to give the program the green light, so the university cannot advertise its program until then. But when approved, Colen believes engineering will add prestige to Arkansas' only public HBCU.
"We've been productive for a number of years," Colen said. "We have a very high placement rate for our graduates in this area and everything. To say it's been exciting -- I've probably gotten calls from five of my graduates already -- just right after we went up there [to Mena] and got the program approved."
According to documentation in the UA System Board's agenda, the program will provide companies within Arkansas and the nation with a pool of qualified employees and potential partnership opportunities. Presently, degree programs in agriculture, agriculture engineering, biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics and industrial technology management and applied engineering support engineering classes.
"Engineering has a large number of mathematic courses," Colen said. "That's the first thing you have to cover, the mathematics. We have to emphasize that with this new program, mathematics is real. They have to master the mathematics."
UAPB has 10 faculty members and will need three more for the program, but Colen is confident the vacancies will be filled by the time the fall semester begins.
"The engineering program is definitely going to add a large dimension to attract other students to come here," said O.C. Duffy Jr., a longtime instructor of civil and construction engineering and manufacturing at UAPB. "It's going to feed into a lot of programs. It's going to feed into industrial tech. It's going to feed into mathematics, and it's probably going to feed into computer science."
Citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, UAPB reported that engineers in 2021 earned a median annual wage of $104,000, which was more than twice the median for all workers. It is also projected that 140,000 new jobs will be created for engineers between 2020-30.
Colen said his field of study dates back to man's arrival on the moon in 1969. UAPB has offered industrial technology courses since 1986.
"When you look at NASA, they produce a number of products that common people can use," Colen explained. "Once they use that equipment or material, they come back and they give it to -- and it's free -- anyone in the United States to use. ... When you start thinking about, 'How do I get something that's designed to the masses?', that's what industrial technology does. When you start talking about manufacturing, if we design this one phone, how do we make a million of these phones?"
The UA System also approved a graduate certificate in forest business at UA Monticello, scheduled to launch July 1. The program is designed to prepare students to work in consulting forestry, forest industry logistics and supply chain management, and finance and investment in forests.
Arkansas has the third-largest timber economy in the U.S. and the most timber-dependent economy in the South, contributing more than $6 billion in the state gross domestic product and supporting more than 60,000 jobs, according to UAM data.
Starting salaries right after graduation in forestry can range from $78,900, to $102,203, according to the university.
"We're excited to offer this new graduate certificate in forest business," said Michael Blazier, dean of the UAM College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources. "This graduate degree can be completed in two semesters, and its courses are designed with maximum flexibility to help professionals with full-time jobs who want to further their careers with increased education in forestry-related business issues. All courses will be offered in evenings in the classroom at the UAM campus, and they will be simultaneously live-streamed online and recorded for downloads. Our newly hired experts and experienced forestry economics faculty in the Arkansas Center for Forest Business will teach courses on topics covering forest/land appraisals, supply chain management, finance, marketing, leadership and more for this certificate. There's a high demand in the industry for these skills, and we're thrilled to meet this demand."
The curriculum includes seven new courses totaling 21 hours, but students will only need to complete 15 of those hours to earn the certificate.
"UAM continues to be the leader in the region and state in providing for the education and research needs of the forestry industry," school Chancellor Peggy Doss said. "The new certificate program is another example of the Arkansas Center for Forest Business' commitment to enhancing the forestry industry."