‘A GAME-CHANGER’

State budget funds expansion of engineering program to Biltmore Park

By BILL STUDENC MPA ’10 

Work is scheduled to get underway shortly after the start of the year on the transformation of 10,000 square feet of retail and office space in the Biltmore Park Town Square into laboratories and classrooms that will enable Western Carolina University to begin offering its undergraduate engineering program there. Expansion of WCU’s engineering degree to WCU’s Biltmore Park instructional site was made possible through more than $1.4 million in the state budget for the 2013-15 biennium.

engineering

Students Theodore Waltz (left) and Kenyatta Fortune work in an engineering laboratory on the Cullowhee campus.

The N.C. General Assembly approved $698,962 for engineering program start-up costs and laboratory equipment at WCU’s Biltmore Park location for the 2013-14 fiscal year, with $719,844 in recurring funds to cover faculty positions and ongoing operations. The university is proceeding with established processes for bringing academic offerings to the Asheville area toward the goal of beginning to offer engineering courses at Biltmore Park in the fall of 2014.

Western Carolina began offering the bachelor of science degree in engineering last fall at its campus in Cullowhee as a new standalone program. N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca ’80 (R-Henderson), a longtime advocate of improving access to WCU’s higher education offerings for people across Western North Carolina, is credited by university officials with ensuring that the state budget included funds for the engineering program expansion. “An undergraduate engineering program is exactly what we have needed in Western North Carolina for quite some time,” said Apodaca, who represents constituents in Buncombe, Henderson and Polk counties. “The day WCU’s engineering degree was announced last year, I received at least a half dozen inquiries asking me when engineering would be coming to the Asheville-Hendersonville area. Engineering is critical to the industries located in our region and to recruiting new industries to locate here. It will be vital for Western North Carolina as we come out of the recession and move forward.”

Additional engineering education opportunities in the fast-growing Interstate 26 corridor between Asheville and Hendersonville will help meet increasing industry and business demand for a highly qualified workforce, said WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher. “This is a real game-changer for Western North Carolina,” Belcher said. “One of the keys to a region’s success in economic development is close proximity to an institution of higher education that offers engineering degrees. With the funding provided by the General Assembly, we will be able to expand our Cullowhee-based engineering program to better serve the people and our business partners in Buncombe, Henderson and surrounding counties.”

The Biltmore Park program, which will focus on serving working professionals including community college graduates eager to earn four-year degrees, will lead to a general engineering degree that will provide specific skills sought by regional industry partners, said James Zhang, dean of WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology. WCU’s generalist approach to engineering offerings has a common core of mathematics and science, augmented by concentrations in specific engineering specializations. Additional engineering specializations can be created to meet the needs of the region. Because of industry demand, a new concentration in mechanical engineering began on the Cullowhee campus in the fall of 2013.