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Let's invest in UA engineering program

Posted: April 10, 2012 - 11:00pm

As we look for ways to create a legacy of opportunity for present and future generations in Alaska, we need look no further than our own University. Strong universities create sustained economic opportunities for the surrounding communities.

This is recognized by private industry in Alaska. In fact, since 2007, private gifts from nearly 770 individuals and corporations total over $26 million to the UA Engineering departments alone. These contributions were made to support the engineering programs that are training engineers for future employment in Alaskan enterprises.

The University of Alaska is making good progress. From 2000 to 2010, of the 1,351 University of Alaska engineering graduates, close to 70 percent remained in Alaska and more than 50 percent are working specifically in engineering-related occupations. Further, applications and enrollment in engineering are among the highest of all departments.

While we have fine programs, our current facilities are lacking in space, equipment and technology to provide state-of-the art instruction required to serve our students. Engineering facilities in Fairbanks and Anchorage date from the 60’s and 80’s, respectively, without significant updates. Accordingly, the UA Board of Regents has called the UA Engineering Expansion Initiative the number one new construction priority for academic programs.

But, there is a greater opportunity here than just providing proper instructional and laboratory space for students and faculty. Alaska faces a shortage of qualified engineers. The State Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s current projections indicate an average of 78 new engineering jobs will be available each year, plus another 189 replacement openings resulting from workers retiring, leaving the Alaska labor force or changing occupations. Alaskan employers prefer to hire UA graduates because of their education, understanding of arctic engineering principles, and likelihood of remaining in the state.

In serving on the Engineering Advisory Councils of UAA and UAF, we feel strongly that it is critical for us to work together in supporting the University of Alaska Engineering programs. These programs are complementary and collaborative.

In fiscal year (FY) 2011, the Alaska State Legislature appropriated $8 million for planning and design. Now it’s time to fund the plan to keep the program on track. The University of Alaska is well positioned to create a legacy institution yielding high quality education and career opportunities for Alaska students while contributing towards a vibrant economy.

With days left until adjournment, we commend the Senate Finance Committee for including these projects in the FY13 capital budget and we wholeheartedly encourage the legislature to fund these important projects. Let’s invest in Alaska.

• Reich is chair of the UAA Engineering Advisory Council. Popisil is chair of the UAF Engineering Advisory Council.

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