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Mississippi HBCU students now eligible to receive professional licenses


Michael Gates and other Jackson State University engineering graduates are closer to becoming professional engineers now that JSU’s engineering programs have been accredited.

“(The students) can now say they graduated from an accredited engineering program, which translates into better job offers money-wise. It translates into being able to be hired by (the Mississippi Department of Transportation), (the Department of Environmental Quality) and the federal government without any restrictions,” said Robert Whalin, the associate dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. Whalin supervises the school’s engineering programs.

The School of Engineering and its $20 million building are seen as the crown jewel for JSU from the settlement of the long-running Ayers higher education desegregation lawsuit.

A settlement reached in 2002 ended the 27-year-old lawsuit filed by the late Jake Ayers Sr. of Glen Allan, alleging the historically black universities in Mississippi were not funded or treated the same as the five majority white schools. An accredited School of Engineering gave JSU a professional school, a necessary step toward recognition as a comprehensive university.

Earning a professional engineer license requires students to graduate from an accredited institution and pass two engineering exams. Gates took the first, a state test, in April. His passing status, however, was dependent upon JSU’s program earning accreditation.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to show that we have adequate studies at Jackson State and we are receiving a top-notch education in comparison to the rest of the state and the rest of the country,” Gates said.

The school’s engineering programs have been accredited by ABET, formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. The accreditation is retroactive to October 2004. The school’s first engineers graduated in May 2005.

ABET is the same group that gives its stamp of approval to engineering programs at Mississippi State, the University of Mississippi and about 550 other colleges in the nation.

JSU’s engineering programs – computer, telecommunications and civil – all were founded in 2000 as a result of the Ayers case. The $503 million Ayers settlement provides money to help the state’s three historically black colleges diversify their academic programs, construct new buildings and attract non-black students.

JSU’s programs have 245 students and have produced 39 graduates.

Gates, a May 2006 civil engineering graduate who works at Civil Tech in Jackson, is a 24-year old Oxford native who chose JSU over Ole Miss, a school whose engineering programs ABET began accrediting in 1949.

Mississippi State’s accreditation with the organization dates to 1941. ABET also accredits engineering programs at the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mississippi Valley State’s computer science program has been accredited with the group since 2005. Engineering programs at the University of Southern Mississippi first earned accreditation with the group in 1980.

JSU’s computer science program has been accredited by ABET since 1991.

The school’s latest ABET accreditation process began in January 2006. A school cannot apply for accreditation until its first students earn degrees. The school then must submit a self review. ABET visits the school and reviews its programs, examining whether the school meets standards set forth by the associated profession. ABET notified the school of the approval last month.

To house its new group of scholars in one location, JSU also is constructing a building for its engineering programs. The $20 million first phase of construction is set to be completed in the fall of 2008. School officials are expected to begin discussing plans for a second phase of construction in the next 12 to 18 months.

News of the accreditation was welcomed by Tom Wallace, a 52-year old civil engineering major who always wanted to get a degree.

“We’re at this little thing called Jackson State University and our programs meet the exact same educational requirements as any really large university, whether that was Mississippi State, the University of Texas or wherever,” he said.

– Associated Press

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