UNR College of Engineering keys technology innovation

Enhancement of engineering fields has long been seen as a national priority for our country to maintain its world leadership and restore its economic vitality.

Several economic studies have shown that:

* Approximately 85 percent of measured growth in the U.S. income per capita is due to advancements in technology.

* Colleges of engineering provide ongoing education and networks to continue formulation and development of local creative capital.

* Current economic theories of growth postulate that technological innovation, which is largely driven by education, is the most important factor in sustainable economic growth.

President Barack Obama recently recognized this need. I was among a select group of deans invited to the White House last February to launch a new initiative focused on expanding the engineering workforce in order to promote technology, enhance innovation and expand economic growth. During the meeting, President Obama identified the growth of engineering as a critical priority for the nation's prosperity and economic growth.

To meet the challenges and contribute to the economic growth of Nevada, the region and the nation, the College of Engineering has adopted a vision of measurable national recognition as a leading institution in its class. To achieve this vision, the college has set its mission to:

* Offer a globally competitive undergraduate and graduate engineering and computer science education;

* Pursue high-quality competitively funded fundamental and applied research to create and disseminate new knowledge and innovative technologies to address the technological, societal and economic diversification needs of the state, the nation and the world; and

* Participate in high-quality outreach activities and industrial

partnerships regionally, nationally and internationally.

The college has five departments, eight majors and three minors. There are undergraduate engineering programs in chemical, civil, environmental, computer science, computer engineering, electrical, engineering physics, materials science and mechanical engineering. In U.S. News and World Report, the college's civil engineering graduate program is ranked in the top 50, and its environmental engineering and mechanical engineering programs are also highly ranked. The college is fully accredited by ABET, a nongovernmental organization that accredits post-secondary education programs in applied science, computing, engineering and engineering technology.

The College of Engineering has graduated an increasing number of students every year, with 202 bachelor's degrees, 61 master's degrees and 15 doctoral degrees awarded in the 2011-2012 academic year, all moving into the workforce prepared to fill high-tech, high-skill jobs in Nevada. These students are equipped to compete and collaborate on a global scale from right here in Nevada.

We continue to attract the "best and the brightest" students, with almost one-third of all National Merit and Presidential Scholar students being engineering majors. The talents of these students, as well as the education and hands-on experience they are receiving at the college, are evidenced by their success in several statewide, regional and national student competitions, including the Concrete Canoe, the Governor's Cup, the MARS Rover, and the Steel Bridge and the Water Treatment Competitions.

The college currently holds 25 patents and has faculty who actively work with the Technology Transfer Office to ensure their future products are of interest to industry. The college has a focus of increasing research productivity, as this spurs invention, innovation and funding to assist in the expansion of the undergraduate and graduate programs.

Some topics of research our faculty are working on are new technology for water distillation, cyber security, nuclear waste storage technology, efficiency of HVAC systems powered by renewable resources, pavement innovations, large-structures earthquake engineering, nanotechnology and electro-active systems, environmental engineering and renewable energy innovation. Our research ties to the knowledge-based priorities identified by the governor's economic development team, including health and medical services; aerospace and defense; mining, materials and manufacturing; business IT ecosystems; and logistics and operations.

But we don't do all of this alone. We continually collaborate with business and industries in the state, garnering their support and input, as well as providing them with expertise and helping to fulfill their workforce needs. We are entering our third year of our Corporate Partners Program, which includes Click Bond; GE; Haws Corporation; Kleinfelder, NV Energy; Sierra Nevada Corporation; Wedco, Inc.; and Xandex. Some of these corporations are local companies that fund research and provide support for our graduate students. They all hire our graduates and encourage a strong College of Engineering to support their companies.

We also work with many other companies throughout the state, who fund specific research they need for their industries, as well as hire our interns and graduates. These include companies in industries such as gaming technologies, software development, mining and construction.

The college works with many governmental agencies and others to help provide services and research vital for public safety and services, such as the Nevada Department of Transportation to study bridge retrofitting, pavement mixtures and development of traffic models. Our faculty members work with the City of Reno on water supply issues and wastewater reclamation. It's programs like these that are essential, through faculty researchers and our graduates out in the marketplace, to building infrastructure in Nevada.

Our faculty members engage in outreach activities to share their knowledge with and serve people throughout the state, the country and the world. Some of their service activities include participating in Engineers Without Borders and K-12 programs, such as the Outreach Mobile Engineering Education Lab, which visits about 40 schools each year, presenting to more than 8,000 students.

The College of Engineering's direct, immediate impacts on the economy include obtaining federal and private grants, putting people to work.

Besides all of our research activities, there are other ways that we contribute to economic growth. You may have driven by the east side of campus along Evans Street and seen the expansion of our world-renown Large-Scale Structures Laboratory that is underway. This $18 million project, which will make the lab the largest of its kind in the world, has hired local contractors. That lab also employs local companies to help build concrete and steel specimens, such as large-scale bridge columns and 200-foot-long bridges, to be tested on shake tables in simulated earthquakes.

Tom Harris, economics professor and state Cooperative Extension specialist at the university, conducted a study to identify the regional economic impact of the College of Engineering in 2011-12. The college received approximately $10.9 million from the state, while it generated competitive research funds of about $27 million from highly competitive federal and private sources. The college spent directly in the state more than $38 million. Using research-based models that calculate economic impact, Harris concluded that the College of Engineering had a $69.2 million positive economic impact on the region, including 608 jobs and $36.6 million in household income. The college directly employs more than 400 faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate assistants, and post-doctorate students and as many as 200 workers through local contractors and businesses.

When our students graduate, they are prepared to earn above-average wages. This helps fuel the economy and negate need for public assistance. National averages indicate engineering continues to be one of the most highly compensated degrees, starting at $61,800.

The College of Engineering at UNR is committed to providing our students with a first-class, globally competitive engineering education, to conducting research that advances the engineering disciplines and to engaging in high-impact outreach and economic activities.

Manos Maragakis is dean of the University of Nevada, Reno College of Engineering.


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