By Holly Gaskill | Echo
The perfect storm.
This is what Bill Bauson, chair of the physics and engineering department and assistant professor of computer science and engineering, called the events leading up to this school year for the engineering department.
Last spring, the engineering department mourned the loss of former Professor of Physics and Chair of the of Physics and Engineering Department Scott Steckenrider. Shortly after, two other faculty members left the department to pursue other opportunities. Additionally, the department was set to renew its Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) license, which would require filing paperwork about the status of the department.
As a four faculty department with three open positions, Bauson said this created anxiety surrounding the future of the department. However, the administration backed the department. In addition to hiring for the three open positions, administration allotted for the department to hire two additional faculty members.
"The thing is when we first saw all this 'perfect storm,' you know, I just realized that God has really given us the opportunity to kind of remake the department," Bauson said.
Bauson, who was planning to retire after last year, stepped up to fill the position of chair of the department. He filed with ABET to postpone the evaluation, given the circumstances, which was approved.
Over the summer and during this school year, the department has hired Dae Huyn Jin as assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Doug Oliver as a visiting associate professor of engineering, Rebekah Miner as a visiting instructor of engineering and Rob Cartwright as an engineering lab manager. Jin and Oliver have been hired as new faculty members.
The administration is still interviewing to fulfill two department faculty positions for this upcoming school year, one of which is replacing Bauson, who plans to retire after this semester. According to Bauson, there have been 43 applicants for the positions, six of which who are being considered seriously.
Bauson said the administration has been diligent to make sure the new faculty members are qualified, skilled and align with Taylor's values.
"The thing is we have to make sure (the applicants) have a mission fit," Bauson said. "We want them to be Christians, for example . . . and not all those who applied were."
Currently, the engineering major holds 42 students, which overlaps classes with 14 computer engineering students.
To keep students informed during this shift, major students met with professors after j-term over dinner to talk. Bauson said this time was to communicate with students before the fall semester and to give an update on the status of hirings.
"I think it was good to clear out rumors and actually establish what the department is headed towards," Caleb Reiskytl, freshman engineering major, said. "It was a good time for input from the students to the teachers and vice versa."
Bauson also found the meeting to be beneficial, saying he was reassured that students were receptive and had new ideas. For example, Bauson is working on policy for students to be able to use the department's 3D printers, an idea brought up by students at the meeting.
Overall, the engineering department has been growing. This year, eight engineering major students will be graduating, all of whom will have jobs after graduation. According to Bauson, the program has also gotten new classroom and observatory equipment.
Additionally, introducing new faculty members has allowed more courses to become available for students. Courses like astronomy and renewable energy have become available to students yearly instead of every other year. The department will also file its report to new ABET accreditation next year.
"The engineering department is going in the right direction," Calvin Ochs, sophomore engineering major, said. "They're hiring people that are good for the department. They were in a hole with the loss of a few people, but they're doing a good job getting out of it."
As for the future of the program, Bauson is confident it will continue to grow and succeed. Bauson said he's proud of the department's strong emphasis on theory and application, an attractive factor to the industry, as well as the close and supportive relationship between students and professors.
Grace Miller, dean of the school of natural and applied sciences, echoed Bauson's praise of the program. Miller said she is looking forward to seeing engineering growth in missions, both domestic and international through an engineering semester in Ecuador.
"The administration is really wanting this department to grow," Bauson said. "They've talked about this at the cabinet and all that too . . . I think things are really looking up, and I hope it continues like that."
Still this year engineering students will take part in a satellite launch. In April, engineering students are planning to travel to Virginia to be present at the launch of a satellite they worked on. The satellite launch will be coordinated with a balloon launch on Taylor's campus, and the two items will communicate with each other.
Bauson also said the department hopes to organize an advisory board, which will connect students with alumni and others in the industry. In retirement, Bauson hopes to be involved in this facet to continue helping the department be competitive by industry standards.
"When we had this 'perfect storm' of things people started wondering about the viability of the program, but we've gone through that storm already and now things are looking up," Bauson said. "We've got the attention of our administration and they're doing things to try and help us grow - new people, new equipment, all those sorts of things - and that can only make things better."