Engineering Degree at Hope
Receives Accreditation

Posted August 31, 2000

HOLLAND -- The Bachelor of Science in Engineering at Hope College has received accreditation from the Engineering Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

The accreditation follows the department's first attempt for the recognition. Hope established the major in 1997.

"ABET is the national accrediting agency in engineering, and their recognition is an important indication of the quality of the engineering program at Hope," said Dr. John Krupczak Jr., who is director of the college's engineering program and an associate professor of engineering. "It tells employers and graduate schools that our alumni come from a program that meets standards important in the profession, and it tells prospective students that they can expect their education here to meet those standards."

ABET outlines several outcomes for the graduates produced by engineering programs, ranging from an ability to apply mathematics, science and engineering appropriate to the discipline; to the ability to function on multi- disciplinary teams; to an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility; to a knowledge of contemporary issues.

Krupczak believes that Hope, as a liberal arts college requiring students to take classes in many fields, is well positioned to instruct its students on the variety of levels recommended by ABET.

"The engineering profession has recognized that it needs liberal arts-trained students," Krupczak said. "Engineering is one of the world's most global professions. We live in an era of worldwide corporations and inter- connections, and engineers must confront not only technical but also ethical, legal and social issues in their work. A liberal arts background is now being seen as an asset to engineers, when 20 years ago it was seen as a liability and all they needed to know was how to crunch numbers."

Many students have embraced the variety of options at the college. The department has even had students double-major in dance, finding a natural link to both disciplines through biomechanical engineering.

The program has five full-time faculty. Some five percent of the students who apply to Hope indicate an interest in engineering, and about 13 students graduate with a major each year. A survey of graduates from 1996 to 1998 found that 100 percent were either employed in engineering or attending graduate school; every member of the Class of 2000 who applied to engineering graduate school was accepted by a program and received either a fellowship or an assistantship.

The accredited major requires 48 hours of coursework in engineering, as well as additional work in other science disciplines and mathematics. In addition to courses like "Computer Aided Design," "Thermodynamics" and "Fluid Mechanics," students work in teams with local industry to solve real-life design problems, and often find summer internships in engineering with corporations.

The opportunity to work closely with faculty members is important to students in the program, and something they realize that doesn't happen everywhere. Kellie Bleecker, a junior from Mount Pleasant who was originally drawn to Hope by the "wide variety of good programs," noted that she appreciates that Hope's professors can and do give students individual attention.

Jay Thwaites, a junior from Grand Rapids, had also visited a large engineering school when making his college choice, and appreciated Hope's more personal approach at the outset. "I thought the program and facilities equally good here, but I like this atmosphere 100 times better," he said.

Bleecker and Thwaites were among the students who spent this summer conducting engineering research on campus- -as was their peer Christine Immink, a junior from Hamilton, who noted, "I like the idea that I could come in and do research. It was open to any of us."

Engineering instruction began at Hope about 25 years ago, when in response to student interest Dr. James van Putten started teaching a course in electronics through the department of physics. Student interest grew, and in the next decade-and-a-half more courses were added, as was a second faculty member with expertise in engineering.

In 1993, the "engineering physics" program received one of only three grants in engineering nationwide from the U.S. Department of Education so that it could be further developed for use as a model by other liberal arts colleges. Through the grant, the curriculum was expanded, more professors were added--and suddenly the scope of what was happening at the college had changed. "The result was that we discovered that we didn't have an engineering physics program," van Putten said. "We had a bachelor of science in engineering program."

According to van Putten, the expansion was originally intended to bring to engineering the same methods that Hope had been using successfully in preparing students for graduate work in other science disciplines. "The national need there is that only about 45 percent of all Ph.D. graduates in the United States in engineering are U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents," he said.

Particularly as the opportunities for hands-on learning have increased, though, he feels that the program serves equally well the 40 percent of engineering majors who choose to go directly into industry. "Since about 90 percent of all engineers do go into industry eventually, this has helped prepare those bound for graduate school for their eventual positions in addition to helping students who want to take a job right out of college."

The ABET accreditation provides a concluding high point for van Putten, who retired from the faculty at the end of the 1999-2000 academic year after devoting a quarter century to shepherding the program's progress.

"It's a good time to retire," he said. "The program is underway, and I think it's going to grow."

"There are more engineers than in any profession except K-12 school teachers. It is a very big profession. There is a high demand," van Putten said. "I see no reason why in 10 years we shouldn't have twice the number of majors that we have now."

Click for more information about the college's engineering program.

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