Georgia Southern University has been given approval by the state to begin offering six new degree programs in its College of Engineering and Information Technology.
The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents voted Tuesday to allow the school to offer undergraduate degrees in both computer and construction engineering and graduate degrees in civil, electrical and mechanical engineering and information technology.
Mohammad Davoud, dean of the college, said that the programs will help grow local education in two in-demand fields of engineering. The recommendation considered by the Regents this week showed projections of more than 1,000 jobs requiring computer engineering backgrounds being created in Georgia over the next three years. Demand for construction engineers is booming, too. The university’s pitch to the Regents cited figures projecting more than 17,000 job openings in the field during a 12-year period from 2012-2024.
“We have not been producing those types of graduates, and the industry is starving for those types of graduates,” Davoud said Thursday.
An aim will be to keep students in the region.
“Every year, we have a large number of students who transfer from Georgia Southern to other universities in this state and other states to receive computer engineering and other degrees, so we decided … we should have our own program,” Davoud said.
There’s especial interest in computer engineers as the U.S. Army relocates its Cyber Command headquarters to Fort Gordon near Augusta. The installation’s new cyber missions are expected to create 4,700 military and civilian positions, according to a 2016 report in the Augusta Chronicle. The growth could grow Fort Gordon’s employment 250 to 375 employees per year over the next two decades, and officials in the area are promoting a regional economic development initiative known as the “Fort Gordon Cyber District.”
“Clearly, we are well on our way to developing the business culture and the human capital it takes to be a world-class technology mecca,” Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce President Sue Parr told the paper in November.
The graduate programs, meanwhile, will be largely meant to offer a close-to-home option to local engineers seeking to supplement their undergraduate educations.
“We have plenty of engineers that work in the industry,” Davoud said. “…. They may be graduates of Georgia Southern or Georgia Tech or anywhere else, and they need master’s degrees, but it’s hard for them to go to Atlanta, obviously. If they are in the region within a 30-minute drive, or maybe we can offer some courses in Savannah, it would be easy for them to receive their master’s degrees and grow in their disciplines.”
Currently, the college offers bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences, information technology, civil engineering and construction management, electrical engineering, manufacturing engineering and mechanical engineering as well as master’s degrees in computer science and applied engineering.
The new programs need to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools before they can officially begin, but Davoud does not predict any hiccups. He says student and faculty participation in such programs has grown by about 300 percent since the College of Engineering and Information Technology was founded in 2012.
“It has grown from a handful of students to 600 students last fall,” Davoud said. “This fall, it will be even more.”
Currently, the college employs about 115 faculty and staff members. Davoud says he does not need to immediately bring on new staff to handle the new programs, because much of the subject matter is already being taught. He does, however, predict future employment growth within the college.
“We will have to continue hiring more because the college is growing at a very fast rate,” he said.
The program expansion comes amid Georgia Southern’s consolidation with Savannah’s Armstrong State University. Already, it has been announced that Georgia Southern’s main campus in Statesboro will continue to serve as home to the combined university’s engineering programs, while the Savannah campus will serve as headquarters to a health sciences college. State funding for expansion of new facilities for both disciplines was recently approved.