Nathan McNeill has been selected as the next director of the Colorado Mesa University-CU Boulder Engineering Partnership Program, leading a unique program that educates dozens of engineers annually in Grand Junction.
McNeill, a mechanical engineering instructor in the program for the last eight years, will start the new position on July 1, succeeding Tim Brower, who has served as director since the program’s inception in 2008.
“I’m confident that, under Nathan’s leadership, this distinctive partnership is poised for continuing growth and success,” said Keith Molenaar, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at CU Boulder. “The program provides unmatched career opportunities for the talented students it serves and helps us to meet the demand for highly trained engineers across Colorado and beyond.”
The CMU-CU program provides a pathway for students to earn ABET-accredited bachelor’s degrees from CU Boulder in civil, electrical and computer, or mechanical engineering through classes delivered entirely in Grand Junction. During their first two years, students are taught by CMU faculty before completing their last two years with CU Boulder faculty members who live permanently on the Western Slope.
Since the innovative partnership began, 169 students have earned engineering degrees.
“I spoke with Nathan today and am convinced his vision for the future promises growth opportunities for CMU, CU, our students and the future of engineering as a discipline,” said Tim Foster, president of Colorado Mesa University. “The partnership between our universities is an incredible success story, and I am excited about Nathan helping write the next chapter.”
McNeill, a graduate of Walla Walla University, worked in the building materials and mining industries, primarily in Canada, for six years before earning his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech Lorraine, the university’s international campus in France.
He earned a PhD in engineering education from Purdue University and spent two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida studying how students solve various kinds of open-ended engineering problems.
McNeill said he looks forward to helping students successfully navigate the intricacies of the partnership programs and, after they graduate, to contribute to their communities.
“We have amazing industry partners here in the Grand Valley,” McNeill said, adding that more than 40 graduates have worked on the Western Slope at some point after earning their degrees. “That’s been really exciting to see, and I want to continue to contribute to economic development here on the Western Slope.”
Mark Hernandez, the S.J. Archuleta Endowed Professor and CU Boulder faculty liaison to the program, said the committee that selected McNeill was impressed by his industry connections, practical experience and devotion to working with students.
“His love for teaching and educating young people is front and center,” Hernandez said.
McNeill will be responsible for sustaining the mechanical engineering and civil engineering degrees while growing the electrical and computer engineering degree, which launched in fall 2018.
Engineers who graduate from these programs are especially valuable in the growing region between Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, which is rich with natural resources and engineering needs but offers no other engineering programs, Hernandez said.
“All those things are adding up to a need for engineering education,” he said. “CMU is just the next obvious position for growth right in the middle of the Mountain West. It’s a gem.”