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Task force aiming to improve engineering at UW

Task force aiming to improve engineering at UW

Jun 27, 2013 - By Don Warfield, Staff Writer

Former Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Gov. Matt Mead's energy strategy adviser expressed strong support June 20 for a plan to make the University of Wyoming a "tier one" engineering school.

Freudenthal and Rob Hurless addressed roughly 250 mining industry executives gathered in Sheridan for the 58th annual Wyoming Mining Association convention. Freudenthal is now a lawyer in private practice.

The plan grew out of the 2012 Wyoming Legislature's statutory mandate that renovation and reconstruction of UW's engineering facilities be designed in a way that would lead the university toward a better academic and research institution in areas of excellence appropriate for Wyoming.

Mead thought that developing a tier one institution would require a much a more integrated approach, "melding many disparate past and present initiatives," Hurless said.

Mead appointed a 10-member task force of UW alumni to guide the effort. He named Freudenthal, its co-chair, along with Baker Hughes executive chairman Chad Deaton. Baker Hughes is an oilfield services company.

In its December 2012 report, the task force presented eight specific recommendations: Define areas of excellence, improve integration across colleges and facilities, improve and enhance the undergraduate curriculum, improve the number and quality of faculty, improve the inflow of quality students, improve connections with industry and alumni, invest in facilities that provide the initiatives, and recognize the need for leadership, execution and accountability.

The task force summarized its recommendations this way: At the core of the tier one effort is a single fundamental question, why invest time and money at the University of Wyoming? The question is addressed to students, faculty, donors, employers, researchers and anyone else affiliated with UW's engineering program and its School of Energy Resources.

While the WMA members generally showed an open mind to the initiative, a simmering undercurrent quickly surfaced: "How can UW claim to be a tier one engineering school when it does not offer a mining engineering degree?" one executive asked. Further, none of the 10 task force members, it was pointed out, represented the mining industry.

"The conversation (about how to become a tier one engineering school) isn't done," Hurless said. "Mining engineering could become part of the ramp-up to improved status."

Hurless and the report outlined a two-pronged strategy. One prong would be a challenging, rock-solid undergraduate engineering degree on a par with Purdue University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, and the like.

Choosing three to five graduate niches at which the University of Wyoming can genuinely excel would constitute the second prong.

Above all, the task force said, UW must avoid the characterization as an institution that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

According to the report, Wyoming has invested roughly $300 million in developing energy programs during the past eight years. Renovation and reconstruction of the School of Engineering facilities is estimated to cost another $100 million.

The task force report, titled "Wyoming Governors Energy, Engineering, STEM Integration Task Force 2012," is available online.

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