CU-CMU partnership pays dividends for all

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By The Daily Sentinel
Sunday, June 15, 2014

If Phil DiStefano, the chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder, has anything to say about it, we’ll see more collaborations with Colorado Mesa University that will expand opportunities for engineering students on the Western Slope.

DiStefano visited with the Sentinel’s editorial board last week during a statewide outreach tour and said the university’s goal to double its number of engineering graduates by 2020 could lead to an expansion of its partnership with CMU.

The country needs more graduates in engineering — along with other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) specialties — to counter graduates from China and India, who are poised to dominate the field by their sheer numbers.

The school’s Engineering 2020 initiative led CU-Boulder to establish a mechanical engineering program at CMU that DiStefano called a “model partnership” because Westerns Slope students never have to leave the CMU campus to get a degree from CU-Boulder.

Residence at CMU provides CU-Boulder engineering students the unique option of a small class size and more contact with faculty while experiencing an engineering program equal in quality to that delivered on the CU-Boulder campus.

“We’ve discussed whether we should expand into another area, such as electrical engineering,” DiStefano said. “Right now our students who have graduated are getting really good jobs. It’s to everybody’s advantage to expand these opportunities.”

The first two years of the mechanical engineering program are taught by CMU faculty, and the second two years of the program are taught by CU-Boulder faculty who live permanently in Grand Junction. It amounts to CU subsidizing the program, but DiStefano said it’s worth the cost.

These are students who didn’t want to leave the Western Slope to go to college, indicating that once they graduate, they’re likely to stick around and fill engineering jobs.

CU has also taken steps to retain more students interested in engineering programs by enrolling them in the School of Engineering, even if they don’t have the grades in core math classes. Previously these students were enrolled in the College of Arts & Sciences and had to win acceptance, but that led to attrition.

CU’s outside-the-box thinking extends beyond engineering.

The university responded to DiStefano’s challenge for more private-sector partnerships by establishing the Office of Industry Collaboration. It helps businesses find more ways to partner with the school in research.

DiStefano wants to take industry research funding from $20 million to $100 million annually and investigate more ways to infuse the university with cash while keeping tuition costs down.

Less than 5 percent of its total budget comes from state funding, making CU-Boulder the lowest-funded comprehensive public research university in the country. It also has one of the smallest endowments for a public research university in the country.

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