By Julia Duvall
Western Carolina University hosted state legislative bill sponsors for the Engineering WNC funds presentation event on Tuesday, Nov. 21, with the legislators presenting a ceremonial $98.8 million check to Chancellor Kelli R. Brown.
The event highlighted the future growth of WCU’s College of Engineering and Technology and student impact.
“Funding for engineering expansion will allow WCU to meet critical demand in the regional labor market and to serve Western North Carolina to its fullest potential,” Brown said. “I’m personally thankful for our legislators from the region who sponsored bills on behalf of WCU during the budget process including Senators Corbin, Hise and Moffitt, and Representatives Johnson, Gillespie, Clampitt, Pless and Hardister.”
With WCU being the only public university with a College of Engineering west of I-77, the funding provides opportunity for expansion to benefit regional industry needs.
Acknowledging the workforce and entrepreneurial opportunities in Western North Carolina, the delegation worked on legislation that outlined investments at WCU which were subsequently included in this year’s State Appropriations Act. Sen. Kevin Corbin, Sen. Ralph Hise and Sen. Tim Moffitt filed Senate Bill 238, with Rep. Mike Clampitt, Rep. Karl Gillespie, Rep. Jake Johnson and Rep. Mark Pless filing House Bill 350. The delegation advocated for the inclusion of these funds in the state budget, which was also a legislative priority of the UNC Board of Governors.
“WCU is a catalyst for the growth and investment of technologically oriented businesses and industry in the region and state and educate the next generation of engineering and technology professionals to fill the talent pipeline,” said Randy Collins, dean of WCU’s College of Engineering and Technology. “Our faculty and staff work closely with students to address critical challenges facing industry through partnerships, applied research and design projects.”
The new engineering facility and funding will allow expansion for programs and laboratories in high demand areas, enabling WCU to adapt to evolving technology and industry needs.
Through WCU’s hands-on capstone projects that allow students to work with real organizations solving real problems, students not only learn new skills to get them career ready, but also helps them build relationships across campus and the engineering industry.
WCU received authorization in the budget for the replacement of the current engineering building. The total amount authorized for this project is $95.3 million, with $2 million of that total allocated in fiscal year 2024-25 for advance planning. The budget also contained funding to expand the College of Engineering and Technology’s programming to support robotics, energy, controls and automation concentrations. The amount allocated is $3.5 million in recurring funds beginning in fiscal year 2023-2024.
“The funding we have received will change the trajectory of WCU engineering and provide the infrastructure and resources critically needed to provide a 21st century cutting-edge engineering education for our growing demand of talented engineering students and our industry and business partners,” Collins said.