Olympic College's engineering program will mirror WSU's

Despite differences in environment and student demographics between Olympic College and Washington State University, the four-year engineering program coming to Bremerton will be almost identical to the one offered in Pullman.

“It may be a slightly different learning experience, but one that other schools are doing and it seems to work,” said Jeff Brown, Olympic College’s sole engineering instructor.

In an effort to foster a homegrown pool of engineers, Olympic College and Washington State are coordinating a four-year mechanical engineering degree program in Bremerton.

The program is expected to start this year.

Washington State will hire one full-time clinical faculty member to teach in Bremerton and an additional two or three faculty members to teach on a course-by-course basis, said Robert Olsen, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture at Washington State. Some upper-level elective classes will be broadcast from Pullman in an interactive video lecture setting. Students will be able to ask questions and engage with the professor, but the format will prevent costly staffing of typically lower-enrollment classes.

Because of the prohibitive expenses of replicating Washington State’s engineering laboratories at Olympic College, Bremerton students will spend an intensive week on the east side of the Cascades during the summer to complete their lab work, performing one or two labs per day instead of the weekly labs Pullman students attend, Brown said.

Such an arrangement will also keep working students in their jobs or allow them to pursue internships.

“What that does is minimize the amount of time people have to be away from jobs,” Olsen said.

The college’s proximity to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard makes it an attractive place to educate new engineers, officials said, and many students are already technicians at the shipyard who can’t move to places like Pullman for a four-year degree. But also, breeding engineers in Bremerton can help the shipyard establish a stable talent pool of people at home.

“Let’s try to grow our own engineers,” said college President David Mitchell, adding that the shipyard recruits across the country for engineers.

Upper-level shipyard management has taken part in discussions surrounding the move to offer a bachelor’s degree in engineering to the college, Brown said. Bremerton-trained students would be more likely to stay in Bremerton, working long-term locally at places such as the shipyard, he said.

According to the shipyard’s public affairs office, the shipyard and its intermediate maintenance facility hires between 90 and 130 engineers a year.

“They’re having difficulties not recuiting new engineers, but retaining them,” Brown said. “Our students are already committed to Bremerton.”

Details of the program have yet to be cemented, and it still needs to be approved by the state Higher Education Coordinating Board in March.

Lawmakers approved spots for 30 students seeking four-year degrees at the college last year. Fifteen will start this year and the full 30 will begin in 2011.

“We are moving ahead as if it’s going to happen,” Olsen said.

Officials are discussing whether students would apply as freshmen in the Washington State program in Bremerton, or whether they would enroll in both Washington State and Olympic College, Olsen said.

Despite the up-front costs to Washington State of hiring faculty, the rest of the program will be funded by the state and student tuition, he said.

In the face of continuing budget reductions for the university - Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed 2010 budget calls for a 7 percent budget cut, following last year’s 12 percent cut - Olsen insists this expansion to Olympic College is in the university’s interest.

“It’s part of our mission to extend ourselves to as many students as we can,” he said.

Washington State is collecting applications for the four-year program in Bremerton, asking students who apply to indicate they are interested in attending Olympic College.

“I just think it’s an outstanding opportunity for Bremerton-area students,” Brown said.

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