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Charting New Territory: Colleges, Universities Offering New Academic Programs

Charting New Territory: Colleges, Universities Offering New Academic Programs
By Hilary Hurd

M any college students across the country will have new opportunities open to them as several colleges and universities are offering new academic programs this fall in a hustle to remain competitive and respond to the rapidly changing marketplace.
Smith College in Northampton, Mass., South Carolina State University in Orangeburg and Xavier University in New Orleans are responding to the current high-tech boom and offering new degree programs in engineering. Smith College, particularly, is turning heads and raising eyebrows with its new engineering program because it is the first women’s college in the United States to have such a program.
And after a long, controversial battle, students at the University of Alabama
at Birmingham will now have the opportunity to major in Black studies.
Dr. Adeniyi Coker, director of the Black Studies program, says that the next item on his agenda is to seek departmental status for the discipline, adding that the next three years will be crucial in convincing higher education officials that there is a strong demand for a Black studies major.
On the graduate level, Howard University is responding to the current shortage of urban educators and is admitting its first students to its new doctoral program in education. The historically Black university’s dean of the school of education, Dr. Vinetta C. Jones, says Howard is uniquely qualified to produce leaders who will be prepared to address such critical issues facing urban school districts as closing the achievement gap, reducing dropout rates and ensuring school safety.
Smith College: Changing the Face of Engineering
Women’s colleges are often noted for producing “firsts.” Last fall, Smith College — the largest women’s college in the country, with 2,800 students — opened the first engineering department ever at a U.S. women’s college.
Citing a national shortage of female engineers — five out of six engineering students are male — as well as a shortage of college facilities to educate them, Smith trustees in January 1999 approved the new $12.5 million department.
Smith College President Ruth Simmons has said, “Engineers design and build much of the human environment. Women must not accept so marginal a role in so important a field.”
Prior to opening its engineering department, Smith students interested in engineering had to take classes at nearby University of Massachusetts at Amherst or Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
But no longer. Last fall,
students had the opportunity to enroll in two engineering courses. As a result, one has decided to pursue a graduate degree in engineering and
another has switched her major to engineering.
The chairman of Smith’s engineering department is Dr. Domenico Grasso, who prior to coming to Smith headed the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Connecticut. Grasso turned down an attractive offer to chair the department of earth and environmental engineering at Columbia University in New York to lead Smith’s  pioneering program.
“It was not an easy decision,” Grasso says. “But the Smith position had so much potential associated with it. What I could do here could have so much more of an impact.”
Grasso is hiring faculty to staff the department. Three of the four faculty members planning to come aboard are women, which also makes the program unique because 96 percent of engineering faculty are men.
 Grasso predicts that other liberal arts colleges, and not just women’s colleges, will follow in Smith’s footsteps by offering engineering majors. “That’s just the type of society we’re living in,” Grasso says of our high-tech world.
Although students do not have to declare a major until their junior year, 19 students have already predesignated the engineering major. Students can focus on several areas of concentration such as environmental engineering, computer engineering and biotechnology/biomedical engineering.
“I think it’s good to have as many opportunities as possible for women to pursue
engineering and science,” says Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the first African American woman to receive a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of  Technology.
However, Jackson cites high costs and the availability of research opportunities as the major challenges for Smith.
“The challenges are more so because it’s a small liberal arts college rather than a women’s college,” she says.
Jackson says the program is beneficial for women who want to have a college experience at an all-female institution and at the same time are not precluded from studying engineering.
Smith is expected to graduate its first class of engineering students in 2004.
According to statistics from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, the Engineering Accreditation Commission accredited more than 20 engineering programs in 1999 at various colleges and universities across the country. Computer engineering led the pack, followed by environmental engineering and electrical engineering. Schools must graduate their first class of engineering students before seeking accreditation from the board. If the program is successfully accredited, accreditation is normally extended retroactively to cover the graduates.

Xavier Seeks to Boost Minority Presence in Computer Industry 
Xavier University of Louisiana sophomores and incoming freshmen will have an opportunity not available to their classmates that preceded them — the opportunity to
major in computer engineering at Xavier.
For several years, the university has offered a dual-degree program in engineering in which students attend historically Black Xavier for three years, then attend an engineering school of their choice for an additional two years, graduating with a joint degree in physics from Xavier and the chosen engineering school. Now, however, students wishing to
major in computer engineering never have to leave Xavier’s campus.
Xavier’s board of trustees approved the new program in June. Xavier’s president, Dr. Norman C. Francis, says the new program is “the single most important initiative in the new millennium for Xavier in terms of academic programs.”
Dr. Marguerite S. Giguette, chairwoman of the department of computer sciences and computer engineering, says she had already pre-registered approximately 20 students interested in the engineering program before the fall semester began.
Establishing a computer engineering program at Xavier seemed to be the obvious choice and the perfect fit, Giguette says. The school already has a strong computer science program and in 1998, Xavier built a state-of-the-art, five-story science building, which more than tripled the number of labs for the department of computer sciences and now computer engineering. In addition, a $1.2 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation last year allowed the school to implement the program more quickly. 
Giguette plans to add two or three new faculty members to the already eight-member department by the 2001 fall semester.
“There are many opportunities in the computer industry, but the numbers of African Americans in the field are abysmal,” Giguette says. “Xavier really wanted to make its mark in this area and make a difference.”
Officials from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education predict that in 10 years, Xavier’s new program will double the number of African Americans with degrees in computer engineering. Of Xavier’s 3,820-student body, 89 percent is African American.

S.C. State Joins Effort to Produce More Minority Nuclear Engineers
The U.S. Department of Energy announced last November that it was funding a program at historically Black South Carolina State University to increase the numbers of minorities in the nuclear engineering field.
The Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology suggested that South Carolina State embark on a joint venture with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has a nuclear engineering program, to make this program a reality. 
In July, representatives from South Carolina State and the University of Wisconsin signed an articulation agreement. Once the program receives approval by South Carolina’s Commission on Higher Education, the program plans to admit its first students next fall.
The program provides South Carolina State’s students with several options for pursuing a nuclear engineering undergraduate and graduate degree. The program that will begin next fall, pending approval, will allow students to receive a joint bachelor’s of science degree in nuclear engineering from both South Carolina State and the University of Wisconsin. Students will take the majority of their courses at South Carolina and spend two summers and one spring semester in Madison.
South Carolina’s students who are currently participating in the nuclear engineering program will major in one of the following seven majors: physics, civil engineering, computer science, electrical, industrial or mechanical engineering or engineering technology. Students may then attend Wisconsin for a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. Another option under the program allows South Carolina students to take the required courses at SCSU while simultaneously working on a master’s in nuclear engineering at Wisconsin through interactive courses, plus spending one summer in Madison to obtain their master’s.
Five students from South Carolina State already are participating in the program. “Initially there were three slots, but because of the caliber of the students interested in the program and their excellent work, we wanted to enroll as many students as funds would allow,” says Dr. James Anderson, dean of the school of engineering technology and sciences at South Carolina State. Anderson, coincidentally, received his master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Officials from the Department of Energy say that they plan to replicate the nuclear engineering program all over the United States — pairing up predominantly minority institutions with major research universities having nuclear engineering programs. Pairings that are currently in the works link New Mexico State University with the University of New Mexico — which has a nuclear engineering program — and historically Black North Carolina A&T State University with North Carolina State University — which has also a nuclear engineering program. South Carolina State is expected to administer the Department of Energy program, as well as a scholarship program for students pursuing nuclear engineering degrees.

A Major Reality: UAB Launches Black Studies
For more than 10 years, students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have only had the option to minor in Black Studies.
But after years of trying to bring the Black Studies major to UAB, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education finally approved the major in April. Months earlier, the commission had rejected the idea (see Black Issues, May 25).
The university has offered courses in Black Studies since the 1970s and has offered a minor since 1989. But now that students have the option to major in Black studies, several changes are in the pipeline.
Dr. Adeniyi Coker, director of the Black Studies program, is excited about the additional courses that will be offered this year — “African American Identity,” and “African American Personality.” Coker is particularly proud of a new course looking at African American public health issues, such as hypertension and infant mortality. “Perhaps we can train students to solve these 21st-century health problems,” Coker says.
In addition, Coker is on the verge of hiring new staff and says that student recruitment efforts will be under way, as well as making students aware of available scholarships. The program also will be intensifying its study abroad program and will be working closely with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to provide internships for students.
It was a long, difficult battle to get approval for a Black Studies major at the university. The next hurdle Coker and his colleagues must jump is seeking departmental status.
“The next three years will be very crucial,” Coker says. “We have to prove that there’s a very strong demand for a Black Studies major.”

Howard Steps Up to Fill Gap of Urban Educators
As school districts across the country struggle to fill vacancies of superintendents, particularly in urban areas, the dean of Howard University’s school of education, Dr. Vinetta C. Jones, hopes the school’s new doctoral program will provide a pool of effective leaders to fill such gaps.
“There is a crisis shortage of effective leadership in urban education,” Jones says. “Howard’s school of education is focusing on issues of diversity. It is at the core of our mission and the legacy of Howard.”
Offering a doctorate to education professionals had been in the planning stages for several years, and Howard’s board of trustees approved the proposal in June, says Jones, adding that the doctoral program is long overdue.
Approximately 10 students are expected to enroll this fall in the program. The program, Executive Administration Guided Leadership Experience, will offer all courses in the evenings and weekends to accommodate the schedules of working professionals. EAGLE students can select elective courses from three Howard University schools — business, communications and social work — as well as courses in political science and sociology.
Previously, Howard’s education students had to go elsewhere if they wanted to pursue a doctorate. Jones says that most students expressed an interest to continue their education at Howard. Now they can.
The school of education has added three new faculty members over the past year — Dr. Lois Harrison-Jones, Dr. Jerome Jones, which have served as superintendents, and Dr. R.C. Saravanabahaven. School officials say they want their doctoral candidates to master theory and research methods but they also want to give the
students the opportunity to interact with
education professionals who have been in urban districts, Jones says. A fourth faculty member, Dr. Dia Sekayi, will come on board this year, specializing in diversity issues and multicultural approaches to
education and teaching.
“Urban school districts, in particular, are searching for ways to close the achievement gap, reduce dropout rates, ensure school safety and retain qualified, dedicated
personnel,” Jones says. “Howard University is uniquely qualified to produce leaders who will be prepared to address these
critical issues.” 

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