Otterbein University has drafted a new major intended to prepare students for what administrators and local business leaders said they believe will be an in-demand career in central Ohio.
The systems engineering major will be offered to students in fall 2015, either through a four-year term at Otterbein or through split time at Columbus State Community College and Otterbein.
University officials admitted that an engineering major might seem like an odd fit for a liberal arts college, but, they said, the broad-based thinking needed for a systems engineer makes sense with the university's integrative-studies approach.
"It's not a highly specialized major; it's to look at big systems and how to improve them," said Otterbein President Kathy Krendl. "We talked with a number of people out in the field of engineering, and they said a lot of engineers became too specialized too early on."
For students graduating from high school and looking toward college, engineering is an increasing area of interest, Otterbein administrators said.
However, in central Ohio, few schools other than Ohio State offer engineering programs.
Having an engineering option at Otterbein gives students the option to study the subject at a small, liberal arts school if they don't want the Big Ten college experience, said Jefferson Blackburn-Smith, Otterbein vice president for enrollment management.
"When you look at engineering interests in Ohio, based on students who take the ACT or SAT ... one of the largest interests for students in Ohio is engineering," Blackburn-Smith said. "For a student that doesn't want that (big university) environment, if they want to be in central Ohio and take advantage of what Columbus offers for culture and internship opportunities and co-op and career opportunities, we think it will help students who want to stay in central Ohio and want to study engineering."
In talking to industry professionals, university officials said they found there's also a need for engineers, particularly engineers with broad-based skills.
Systems engineering, as opposed to the more specific electrical, mechanical or civil engineering, provides a broad-based approach to engineering, with systems engineering majors learning how to approach problems from a variety of angles to create solutions.
"Many industries are finding that their engineers can't communicate with each other because 'this person knows mechanical' and 'this person knows electrical,' " Blackburn-Smith said. "Companies are looking for a more general engineer, not to replace the engineer but to enhance the work that they're doing."
In addition to giving systems engineering students a cross-discipline education, the university also will work to create real-world experience for the students, both through the university's Senior Year Experience program and through internships with local companies, said Aaron Reinhard, interim director for the program.
"That's something we're working on now, to forge partnerships with local companies," Reinhard said. "They're going to be working with a very diverse group of professionals."
Otterbein's goal will be to create a program that will be nationally accredited, Reinhard said, though accreditation can't be given until the university has graduated a student in the major.
The only other systems engineering program in Ohio accredited through ABET, the national engineering accreditation agency, is at Case Western Reserve University, Reinhard said.
There are only 19 accredited four-year systems engineering programs in the country, according to ABET's website.