Engineers PRODUCED in Virginia Program is Helping Meet Demand for a Tech-Savvy Workforce

June 10, 2009 — Despite a largely bleak job market, engineers remain in high demand. According to a recent survey by Milwaukee-based Manpower Inc., engineering jobs are the toughest to fill in the United States. With a lack of students pursuing engineering degrees and federal stimulus money pegged for infrastructure and green energy projects, the demand is expected to grow.

The University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, in partnership with the Virginia Community College System, is striving to meet that demand with Engineers PRODUCED in Virginia, a distance-learning program.

About 125 students are enrolled in the program, with the first class set to graduate in 2012. The program offers classes at Central Virginia Community College and Danville Community College and will be expanding across south and southwest Virginia in the coming months. Information sessions will be held starting June 15 [see box].

Students participate in classes online and in real time using tablet PCs and headsets for audio. The technology allows them to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering without leaving their communities. It's a learning environment suited to non-traditional students who may be balancing their education with family and career.

"We are actively working to expand the PRODUCED program, so more Virginians can pursue an engineering degree and eventually a related career in the Commonwealth," said James Groves, director of PRODUCED and assistant dean for outreach at U.Va.'s Engineering School. "By reaching out to community colleges throughout Virginia, this program allows us to serve students who may not have been able to begin or complete their engineering education."

Students who finish the first two years of the program with a 3.4 grade-point average are guaranteed admission to the U.Va. Engineering School. They can complete their four-year engineering science degree through distance education in their local communities or attend U.Va. as a residential student.

According to Groves, attending classes at community colleges through the PRODUCED program can save students about $16,000 in tuition and fees, while giving them the same engineering science degree they would receive by attending U.Va.

Students also have the opportunity to receive scholarships through a National Science Foundation grant. In addition, companies such as AREVA NP [link to: http://www.us.areva-np.com/careers/locations/lynchburg.htm], a nuclear energy company with an operation in Lynchburg, support some of their employees' enrollment in the program with financial aid and flex time.

To accommodate non-traditional college students who may already be working or raising families, the curriculum allows students to attend class anywhere that they have access to high-speed Internet – at home, at work or at their local community college.

In these settings, U.Va. faculty can interact with students through live online learning software that supports real-time communication. The program immerses students in the entire undergraduate engineering experience, including hands-on laboratory activities that include online support for students working through customized labs designed to be done at a distance.

Appomatox resident William Elam is a stay-at-home father who balances caring for his three young children with pursuing his engineering degree through the PRODUCED program.

"The knowledge and skills acquired from an engineering degree will allow me to re-enter the central Virginia workforce prepared to compete for high-tech employment opportunities that will enable me to provide for the financial future of my family," Elam said.

In addition to his career aspirations, the program serves an important life lesson for his children, as he and his wife try to teach their children the importance of being lifelong learners.

"The creation of the Engineers PRODUCED in Virginia program has provided me a unique opportunity to show them firsthand the tremendous benefits of continuing education," he said

Kimberley Baumgardner of Abingdon, who works full time and is a single mother of two children, is just beginning the program. She works as a machine operator and enrolled in the program because she hopes it will help advance her career.

"This program, combined with my work experience in an industrial setting, will be very beneficial in doing that," Baumgardner said. "Another reason I enrolled is the flexibility of the program, the fact that it is designed with people like me in mind – people who are balancing family, career and school."

PRODUCED in Virginia representatives will visit the following locations to discuss the program with prospective students and the public. All events will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

For information about attending one of these sessions, contact James Groves at 434-924-6261 or jgroves@virginia.edu.

June 15 Institute for Advanced Learning and Research
June 16 New College Institute
June 17 Southern Virginia Higher Education Center
June 18 Central Virginia Community College
June 23 Southside Virginia Community College's
June 25 Germanna Community College