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Opportunities expanding at Olympic College

New program will allow student to earn four-year engineering degree.

Long commutes, conflicting work schedules and the prospect of leaving Kitsap County to earn a four-year degree no longer will be an issue for local engineering students, if a recently announced partnership between Olympic College and the University of North Dakota goes according to plan.

Olympic College and the University of North Dakota have joined together to offer students ABET certified engineering degrees, beginning this fall.

ABET — Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology — accredits colleges and universities in computing, science, technology and engineering. ABET accredited schools are considered quality post-secondary programs and in the engineering world, graduating from an ABET school is vital to landing a job.

Olympic College President David Mitchell said many companies require an employee to ABET certified to be hired.

And by offering an ABET certified engineering program, Mitchell hopes to see more engineers come to and stay in Kitsap County and the surrounding area.

“The ultimate outcome is employment as an engineer,” he said, adding that there is a strong need for engineers in Kitsap County.

Mitchell also said the partnership with UND is part of a larger plan to bring more four-year degree programs to OC.

“This is all part of an effort to bring more baccalaureate programs to Olympic College,” he said.

Students earn the four-year degree by completing lecture coursework through online and evening classes at Olympic College, followed by additional coursework including labs through UND’s engineering program, evolving over the years to combat the state’s low population.

“The University of North Dakota is strong online because it has to be,” said Jeff Brown, Olympic College engineering professor and North Dakota graduate. “That motivated them to develop their online program,” he said. “They have been doing some extremely serious marketing of their program.”

And after learning about UND’S engineering program, OC Dean of Engineering Judi Brown visited the school last summer, seeing its engineering facilities first hand, and was impressed with what she saw.

“It was a really nice trip,” she said, adding that its online program and course offerings suited exactly what OC was looking for. “It seemed the planets just aligned.”

Jeff Brown said the program’s evening class and online format will enable working adults, parents and anybody else on a tight schedule who can’t be on campus during the day, an opportunity to earn a four-year engineering degree.

“It opens up the possibility, we think, for a significant number of students,” Brown said, adding that he’s already received a slew of phone calls about the new program. “If it keeps up, we’d be buried, which would be wonderful.”

“We (the engineering department) applaud the administration for being willing to take this on.”

Judi Brown also cited the need to keep engineers in Kitsap County as a driving force behind the program’s purpose.

“It’s difficult to get them back,” she said of engineers leaving the area, adding that the four-year program brings a new spectrum to Kitsap County. “It allows them (students) to have a number of different options.”

And with the combination of night classes and online coursework available at Olympic College, Jeff Brown believes the program will help to keep engineers in Kitsap County.

“For our local student base, it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “A number of our students don’t want to move. They like Kitsap County.”

“The ability to get an engineering degree from your dining room table is rather appealing.”

Jeff Brown said while a computer can’t duplicate the hands-on, face-to-face instruction a professor offers, a significant portion of engineering coursework fits the mold of online education.

“A good deal of the (engineering) curriculum is applied math and science, which lends itself relatively well to online,” he said, adding that students will travel to Grand Forks, N.D., during the summer for a rigorous four to six-week session.

And as the demand for engineers continues to remain high, especially in and around Kitsap County, Jeff Brown said the four-year degree program will help area engineering companies.

“There’s a huge need for engineers,” he explained. “They’re (engineers) filling a niche for our local businesses.”

Eric Anderson, CEO of Art Anderson Associates, an engineering firm in Bremerton, said Olympic College’s four-year program will make Kitsap County a more appealing place for engineers.

“We look outside the area for a great percentage of our hires because we have to,” Anderson said, adding there simply aren’t very many engineers in the area. “It (the program) actually improves our recruiting from outside the area.”

That need was echoed by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s top civilian Rick Tift on Wednesday evening during a roundtable discussion with Gov. Chris Gregoire in historic Building 50.

“Every year we go to 55 colleges and universities across the nation to fill the engineering slots we have,” Tift said.

While PSNS is able to recruit engineers from state universities like Washington State and the University of Washington, there aren’t enough engineers to meet the shipyard’s needs, he said.

“We have had tremendous success recruiting from the Midwest,” Tift said, adding that the University of North Dakota has provided numerous engineers who are now employed in the shipyard.

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