Patience and precision are traits often associated with engineering.
Northeast Wisconsin has needed plenty of both as it has grown industries with some of the greatest demand for engineering talent, yet struggled to secure the educational resources to attract, train and retain that talent in the region.
But the effort, more than 30 years in the making, was finally rewarded when the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents gave conditional approval for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to offer a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering beginning in the fall of 2018.
The approval was predicated on UW-Green Bay securing $1.2 million in cash before admitting students for 2018 and $800,000 to $1 million for each of the next four years. Within a few days, Chancellor Gary L. Miller responded by announcing a $5 million personal gift from Richard Resch, longtime CEO of KI, and a $1 million donation from the WPS Foundation for STEM education.
“This is transformational,” Miller says. “Business leaders in this community have wanted engineering to be offered at UW-Green Bay for decades. A lot of students in this region want to pursue engineering. This will allow them to stay in the region and benefit the businesses here.”
In addition to approving the mechanical engineering degree, the regents approved establishing a school of engineering to accommodate the degree program, which will be known as the Richard J. Resch School of Engineering. It will be part of the renamed College of Science, Engineering and Technology.
“Green Bay has been home to KI for 70 years, and for a greater part of that, my home as well,” Resch says. “I’ve built a great career here and a wonderful life for my family. I hope the school of engineering can help others do the same.”
The donations are part of $7.1 million UW-Green Bay has secured for the university’s school of engineering, along with the long-sought construction of a STEM building on campus and the updating of curriculum for the Einstein Project’s outreach with school districts across Wisconsin.
A joint venture with Brown County, the STEM building will be part of the Phoenix Innovation Park on the UW-Green Bay campus. The county will own the building, which will house the new engineering school as well as the UW Extension, Brown County Land & Water Conservation and the Einstein Project. Brown County and the state will each contribute $5 million.
The new resources should help attract, train and retain the engineering talent the region’s economy so desperately depends upon, says John Katers, dean of UW-Green Bay’s College of Science and Technology.
“The need for engineering talent in Northeast Wisconsin is extreme. This region has the most open positions for engineers in the state and has seen an 18 percent increase in demand for engineers since 2010,” Katers says. “As an aspiring engineer, I had to leave the Green Bay area to complete my engineering degree. Our future students won’t need to do that.”
Engineering talent is a foundational element of the regional economy, says Jerry Murphy, executive director of New North Inc., adding that the new degree is also a prime example of what can happen when the community and industry work together toward a common goal.
“This fulfills a huge demand in the workforce,” Murphy says. “The logic is that if you want professional, degreed people in the workforce, it helps to have the institutions that grant those degrees in the region.”
Adding the bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering also complements the collaborative degree programs in engineering technology launched in 2014 by the Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance. That program allows students to begin their studies in environmental, mechanical and electrical engineering technology at any of the NEW ERA institutions and finish them at either UW-Green Bay or UW-Oshkosh.
That program involves the two-year campuses and the regional technical colleges.
Miller sees the bachelor’s in mechanical engineering complementing the existing program and providing another avenue to supply regional industry with the talent it needs to thrive.
“Ultimately, I think we can leverage these all together and create an even bigger engineering campus that benefits the economy,” he says.