WMU News

Two new degree programs approved

Sept. 22, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Two new degree programs, one in civil engineering and the other in teaching children with vision problems, have been approved by the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees.

Acting at its meeting Sept. 20, the board voted to approve a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, that will be offered beginning in fall 2003, and a master's degree in teaching children who are visually impaired, that will be offered starting in spring 2003.

The new civil engineering degree makes WMU the first university in West Michigan to offer such a program, and the program is expected fill a growing need for well-trained civil engineers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the growth rate for civil engineers will range from 21 to 35 percent over the next 10 years, while state employment data forecasts civil engineering jobs to grow by 20 percent during the same span. In addition, National Science Foundation data shows 17,000 to 18,000 civil engineering degrees are awarded nationally each year, which is 3,000 to 4,000 below the projected total openings for civil engineering positions annually.

"The College of Engineering and Applied Sciences has been looking at a new civil engineering program since 1997," says Dr. Michael B. Atkins, dean of the college. "We looked closely at other programs in the field and developed ours with input from civil engineering firms in this region. A team of civil engineers from Tulane University, the University of Florida and the University of Arkansas reviewed our proposal and suggested minor revisions."

The new program builds on WMU's strengths in construction and structural engineering and will have many courses in common with the existing construction engineering program and other

engineering programs at the University. In addition, the University's paper and printing science and geosciences programs offer courses in environmental engineering, air and water pollution control, hydrology, water resources, hydraulics and soils, making the new program a good complement to existing programs.

The program will be part of the Department of Construction Engineering, Materials Engineering and Industrial Design. The department expects to see an enrollment of about 30 to 45 additional freshman students per year in the new program.

The newly restructured master of arts in teaching children who are visually impaired stems from incidental changes to the existing master of arts in special education with concentration in teaching children who are visually impaired.

"The changes being made are based on student feedback," said Dr. Elizabeth Whitten, chairperson of the Department of Educational Studies. "We asked our students for their input on how to make the program stronger."

The new Master of Arts in Teaching Children Who Are Visually Impaired, which enrolls about 15 students each year, allows the program to be distinctly recognized as the separate entity that it is, independent of other existing special education concentrations. Actual changes to the program are few.

Administered jointly by the Department of Educational Studies and the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies, the master's program is one of country's most sought-after, Whitten says, noting that three students in the program's 2002 summer classes came to WMU from Alaska.

"While the need for these educators is not as high as it is in some other special education areas, their roles are crucial," she explains. "These are educators who work with young people from birth to 21 years old, teaching them and collaborating with other teachers to deliver instruction.

"There is a demand across the country, and people come to WMU from all over for this program," Whitten says, noting that there already is a waiting list to enroll in the program for fall 2003.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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