Engineering a New Major

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Physics Department heeds student needs, introduces first comprehensive engineering major

An Engineering Physics major will join the Pacific University course catalog this coming fall semester. Developed in 2019, the idea was put on a temporary halt by the COVID-19 pandemic—and finally underwent a year-long approval process, and now is available in the academic catalog.

   The Engineering Physics major will yield several key benefits for the Pacific University: It will increase enrollment and retention of students interested in engineering; simplify the academic program for engineering students; and, allow students easier entry into the professional field.

   “A lot of students come interested in engineering,” said Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Rebecca Concepcion. “I think it will allow us some wonderful community partnerships and professional partnerships that will also bring more positive attention to Pacific.”

   Moreover, proponents for the major believe it will both attract and hold more students—as well as simplifying the academic pathway for engineering students while they are here. Concepcion elaborated that because no engineering major existed before, students had to undergo what is called a three-plus-two plan; essentially, spending three years at Pacific studying physics, then transfer to another university like Portland State University and spend two years studying engineering. This was often disappointing and disruptive for students who spent three years at Pacific making friends and settling into campus life only to be transplanted for their senior year. With the Engineering Physics major, students will be stay put for a normal four year run.

   A third benefit, according to Physics Professor Andrew Dawes, students taking the engineering physics major will have a much easier time landing a professional engineering job—all thanks to a little something known as accreditation. “Accreditation,” he says, “is the process of getting recognized by a national or international group that your program meets a set of criteria and expectations. ABET is the group that accredits engineering programs, so any program with the word engineering in it, you can submit to them for their approval.” He continued, “They’ll come review it, they’ll look at all the classes you require, all the people that are teaching them, all your facilities—they even do a site visit. Essentially, it’s this badge that says yes this is a program that meets our expectations of being an engineering program.”

   In turn, the accreditation process from ABET builds credibility to entice engineering employers to hire Pacific engineering students. If a major isn’t accredited, students have to go through convoluted processes to build their credibility to employers. Previously, some students would have to pull up every syllabus from every single college class that related to their major in order to show employers that they were trustworthy and credible to hire. With the accreditation process underway, the barriers to entrance to the engineering field will be lower for graduates.

   The accreditation is still pending, but this is because Pacific needs someone to graduate with this major. Once that happens, the degree will be approved for accreditation.

   However, all the benefits of the new major come with a challenge. According to Dawes, now that the major is approved, the next step is to find new faculty members to teach several new classes. With low enrollment and tight budgets across the rest of the university, proposing to hire faculty for new positions may raise some eyebrows. However, Dawes said it is included in the budget for the 2023-2024 year.

   Even then, the real challenge may be finding the right candidate in the competitive hiring market. Dawes explained, “That part can be tricky because academic salaries are not as high as what engineers are paid in other industry roles.”

   As final details continue to be ironed out, this major is set to attract new undergraduates to Pacific and give all those students wanting to pursue the engineering field a more simple and efficient pathway into their future career. — Kaleb Makimoto


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