Cultivating More Engineers in the Rio Grande Valley

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By Rachel Zanardi

Growth in the Rio Grande Valley region has brought with it an increased need for chemical, environmental and natural gas engineers. Currently, no college in the Valley has been offering these unique engineering degrees, thus making it difficult for these positions to be filled by Valley residents. The closest university to offer these engineering degrees has been Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and President Dr. Steven Tallant recognized that students from the Valley often didn’t like traveling to Kingsville to earntheir degree.

engineer_01“We felt that these students have been under-represented down there,” Dr. Tallant said. “I’ve been approached by more and more students and people asking if we would come down there and open a campus.”

A&M-Kingsville already had approximately 300 acres surrounding the Citrus Center and was offering some courses at the Weslaco campus. So, it was a natural fit to begin offer programs in chemical, environmental and natural gas engineering. “Right now, we need engineers so

desperately in Texas and around the country—particularly Hispanic engineers. We are the ninth leading producer of Hispanic engineers in the country,” Dr. Tallant said.

So starting this January, students in the Valley will be able to begin taking chemical, environmental and natural gas engineering courses in Weslaco. The university currently offers seven ABET-accredited engineering degrees and decided that these three disciplines would be the best initial fit for the Valley. By the fall 2015 semester, Dr. Tallant expects there to be at least 100 students enrolled in the courses. The university projects that in five years the program will have 800 students and 35 full-time faculty members in Weslaco. They’re currently in the process of hiring 17 full-time faculty members and expect this to be a fast growing program.

“It’s going to have an impact. We have well over 300 acres there and we’ve looked at where we can add buildings,” Dr. Tallant said. “When you start talking about 35 families moving down to Weslaco and living there, the research money that we expect to start coming into the region and 800 students studying full time, then it’s going to impact Weslaco in a positive way.”

The program will start out in mobile classrooms and students will receive the first two years of instruction from Rio Grande Valley community colleges before transferring to the Weslaco campus for their final two years of college.

“This is a monumental day for both Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the Rio Grande Valley,” Dr. Tallant said in a press release. “By offering engineering courses in Weslaco, we are building on that commitment and providing students with quality education that will prepare them for high-paying careers in STEM fields.”

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For the first time in history, students desiring to stay in the Rio Grande Valley for their chemical, environmental and natural gas engineering education and continue working here after graduation will have the opportunity to do so. The economic impact that the Valley region is experiencing has brought many engineers from outside the area down, and now more local citizens will have the opportunity to fill those positions.

While Texas A&M-Kingsville is starting with three bachelor’s programs in engineering, it expects the engineering program grow into master’s and doctoral degrees and eventually additional engineering degrees. “We are excited to offer more engineering opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley—an area that continues to grow at a phenomenal pace,” Dr. Stephan Nix, Dean of the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering, said in a press release. “As the region grows, so will the need to develop a STEM-based workforce. Our college has a lot to offer the students of the Valley and we are eager to provide them with opportunities to develop as researchers, scholars and engineers.”

Since 1936, the Texas A&M-Kingsville College of Engineering has been producing engineers in nine undergraduate degree areas such as chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering and 10 graduate degrees, including a doctorate in environmental engineering. The College of Engineering currently has approximately 2,800 students enrolled in its programs—1,284 of which are undergraduate students. So, the addition of 800 students along with the infrastructure and faculty staff required to meet their needs, demonstrates Texas A&M-Kingsville’s strong commitment to the Rio Grande Valley.

“We are committed to teaching the citizens of South Texas,” Dr. Tallant said. “It’s an exciting time in South Texas.”