KU engineering school boosts state economy

July 24, 2010


Higher education institutions have been taking it on the chin lately.

The daily, behind-the-scenes work faculty, staff and administrators are doing at Kansas University and the associated benefits provided to this state have been drowned out. Because both of us serve on the KU School of Engineering Advisory Board, we’re in a unique position to see first hand the projects, plans and strategies this important segment of the university has under way and the benefits these efforts generate. Here are a few of the specific highlights.

Administrators in the School of Engineering have long recognized the need for more engineers in Kansas and that engineers serve as economic engines for our companies and communities. The school has worked diligently to grow enrollment in this rigorous field of study. Currently, KU’s engineering undergraduate enrollment is at a 22-year high, with significant growth coming in the last four years. These students are among the best in the nation. The average ACT math score of these students — many of them homegrown talent — is above 29, which places them above the 90th percentile nationwide.

The School of Engineering is also focused on the benefits of increasing the number of engineers. Such growth enables the state’s engineering-based industries and the state’s economic base to expand. A recent study commissioned by the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers tells us that for every additional engineer employed in Kansas, businesses will hire an average of 1.78 additional staff to support and facilitate their activities

The school has grown its research and graduate programs. These programs help develop solutions for the state’s infrastructure and industries while helping the best students further their education. Since 2002, research awards to engineering faculty have tripled, and enrollment of doctoral students has nearly tripled. The innovation taking place in KU labs is strongly tied to Kansas industry. Together, research and development teams develop novel products, techniques and new designs that generate new revenue.

The school has an entrepreneurial mindset, operating much like a business, as it seeks partners to support and strengthen its research endeavors. For example, in January it was announced that KU was among a handful of institutions selected to receive more than $12 million in federal stimulus funds to support construction of a new research facility focused on materials, measurement and green and sustainable technologies.

Despite economic challenges felt elsewhere, there are jobs for our engineering graduates. KU is making sure its engineering students are prepared to become effective, valued employees. The petroleum and chemical engineers graduating today have opportunities to contribute in the state’s oil and gas industry or in several of the bioscience firms in Kansas. Aerospace and mechanical engineers are needed to fill positions in Wichita’s all-important aircraft industry. Civil engineers are needed in every county in Kansas and help fuel economic growth in Kansas City’s influential engineering and consulting firms. Electrical and computer engineers and computer science graduates are needed everywhere to energize the state’s important IT and telecommunications sectors.

Many people don’t realize the importance these industries have on the state’s economic health. The 2008 Kansas Statistical Abstract, prepared by KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research, revealed that engineering-intensive machines and equipment and agriculture dominate the state’s top 25 exports. Of the more than $8 billion export value of those commodities, engineering-intensive commodities — led by aircraft — accounted for more than two-thirds of the revenue.

As members of the advisory board, we are proud of the accomplishments, plans and vision of KU’s engineering school. We believe the school is focused on the right priorities, is well managed and is positioned to provide quality education for Kansas engineers while responding to the needs of the state of Kansas.

Harry Gibson is a retired executive with Exxon Corp. Bill Benso is a retired executive with Lockheed Martin Corp.


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