Within the Engineering Department at USI, there exist three Bachelor of Science degree programs: engineering, industrial supervision, and advanced manufacturing. The engineering program and the more business-oriented industrial supervision program have been around since before Keith Benedict, instructor in engineering, came to USI 23 years ago. The advanced manufacturing program, however, was established in 2008 to provide students with a course of study that combines the drafting skills taught in engineering with training in the technologies used in the manufacturing industry.
The program offers students a four-year liberal arts education plus the opportunity to take extra math and engineering courses, as well as receive the technical training normally associated with two-year trade colleges. Students also have opportunities for co-ops with local businesses to gain valuable career experience. A self-proclaimed “shop rat,” Benedict’s courses emphasize robotics and manufacturing materials and techniques. “Students who are trained in these areas would have no problem walking into Berry Plastics, or any other employer, and getting right to work,” he said.
The ability to send students into the workforce equipped for today’s advanced manufacturing industry has been buoyed by the completion of USI’s Applied Engineering Center (AEC). The 16,226-square-foot “factory” opened this fall, allowing Benedict and others to move classes and equipment out of the Technology Center, which was shared with art and theatre programs. It also means there’s room for more students to earn degrees in the program. “Everybody recognized that we needed better facilities,” Benedict said. “What we now have is completely state-of-the-art.” The AEC facility features an array of equipment, including automation equipment, injection molding, AutoCAD, and more.
In 2012, the Pott College of Science, Engineering, and Education revamped the advanced manufacturing program’s curriculum. Using input from USI’s Industrial Advisory Board— made up of representatives from area industries—the College increased emphasis on skill areas such as automated equipment, lean manufacturing business management strategy, and other modern manufacturing philosophies.
“There’s not another program in the state that teaches students in such a practical and hands-on way,” said Daniela Vidal, director of the University’s Center for Applied Research and Economic Development, and former instructor and coordinator of advanced manufacturing and industrial supervision. “It gives students an understanding of the challenges they’ll face, as well as contact with industrial partners that could later translate into employment.”
As a result, an increasing number of students in USI’s Engineering Department are electing to complete technical degree programs—in industrial supervision and advanced manufacturing— compared to previous years. According to USI’s Career Services and Internships, more than 70 percent of students polled who graduated from the Engineering Department in 2012 accepted employment in the Tri-state area with average salaries of nearly $52,000.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, manufacturing accounted for 12.8 percent of jobs in 2011, second only to healthcare in a list of largest industry providers of jobs in a four-county area which includes Vanderburgh, Posey, Gibson, and Warrick counties. Employees of manufacturing giants such as Toyota, Berry Plastics, and Alcoa accounted for a whopping 21.4 percent of earnings, higher than any other category with average earnings per job of $82,416.
This kind of education would allow the community access to home-grow talent in areas where skilled technical labor is in increasingly high demand. “I see this building really enhancing what USI is able to offer the community,” Benedict said.