CULLOWHEE - It’s official. Western Carolina University will begin offering a new bachelor’s degree program in electrical engineering in the 2004 fall semester.

Approval of the degree program came during the Friday, Jan. 9, meeting of The University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Western will offer electrical engineering as a joint degree program in partnership with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. The arrangement is designed to take advantage of existing collaborative efforts between Western and UNC-Charlotte in the emerging, high-technology areas of photonics and opto-electronics, said Western Chancellor John W. Bardo.

“Thanks to our on-going partnership with UNC-Charlotte, we have been able to move very quickly from the planning stages of this new degree program to making it a reality,” Bardo said. “With the engineering laboratories and high-tech equipment in place through the efforts of Congressman Charles Taylor, formal approval of the degree program means we are ready to begin offering electrical engineering as a major this fall.”

Taylor has helped obtain federal funding to build and equip Western’s newly opened Center for Applied Technology and to renovate aging laboratory space in the adjacent Belk Building, where the new program will be housed.

Bardo said establishment of the electrical engineering program is another example of the university’s mission to serve as an engine of economic development for Western North Carolina.

“This is a very important step in our efforts to promote the economic vitality of the region,” he said. “We know that engineering alone is not a ‘silver bullet’ with regard to the economic future of the mountain region. But the availability of engineering programs in the west is an important component of an integrated, strategic approach to regional economic prosperity, and it will assist greatly in our efforts to assure that the people of this region can remain in their home communities, find good jobs and earn decent salaries.”

The UNC Board of Governors authorized Western and UNC-Charlotte in March 2003 to study development of the joint degree program.

UNC-Charlotte’s College of Engineering and Western’s existing programs in engineering technology are certified by the Accreditation Body for Engineering Technology. The new program at Western will be reviewed by ABET for the same prestigious recognition after the first graduating class.

Faculty will offer classes through a combination of distance education and traditional classroom and laboratories in both Cullowhee and Charlotte. Degrees awarded to students will carry the names of both institutions.

Students in the program will be required to successfully complete a freshman engineering program before being admitted into the electrical engineering program as sophomores. Focus of the program during the junior and senior years will be in the fast-developing field of opto-electronics and photonics - a $170 billion-a-year industry often called “electronics at the speed of light.”

Duane Dunlap, head of Western’s department of engineering technology, said the new degree program will enable Western to meet the needs of a large number of students wanting to major in an engineering field.

“Electrical engineering is a high-demand major, and is one of the fundamental disciplines leading so many of the technological advances of today,” said Dunlap. “Digital circuits control our automobiles, record our music and power the Internet. The ability to understand these processes, to design and modify new products, and to ensure the quality of these products requires knowledge of physics, mathematics and the engineering sciences.”

For more information about the program in electrical engineering, contact Dunlap at (828) 227-2159, or via e-mail at ddunlap@wcu.edu.

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Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2004
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