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MSU College of Engineering one of the best in the nation

STARKVILLE — At home they are helping with the Mississippi methanol/ethanol project in Winona. Away they are helping the country solve its nuclear waste problem. Either way you cut it, the Mississippi State University College of Engineering has been recognized for years as one of the most renowned in the country, and with award-winning faculty members and graduates it is easy to see why.

“Our prime objective is to turn out outstanding engineers at the bachelor’s level,” said Dr. Wayne Bennett, dean of the MSU College of Engineering.

The college was ranked 50th among the 322 or so colleges of engineering across the country in producing bachelor’s level engineers, according to the American Society for Engineering Education. “That’s what we’re known for and it’s one of our goals that must be first and foremost in everything that we do. To that end, we’ve been working hard to improve the quality of our program and also to grow in size.”

The college has certainly done that much. When the dust settles this fall, there will be right around 2,100 undergraduate engineering majors at MSU and about 460 to 470 graduate students. The college saw one of its largest classes graduate last year. The largest departments are electrical and computer engineering, with about 520 majors overall. The next largest department is mechanical engineering, with 400 majors. Recently, however, the college added a new program — software engineering, which is already up to 49 students.

The average ACT score of incoming freshman engineering majors has also moved up, from 27.2 a year ago to 27.5 this fall. Those numbers are up from 25.6 just four years ago.

“We’re attracting more and better qualified students, and we’re very pleased with that,” Bennett said.

MSU’s College of Engineering students are beginning to win top prizes in national competitions for design presentations. MSU students have won first place in design at the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Mini-Baja Off-Road Vehicle Competition for the last three consecutive years and this year they finished ninth overall. Civil engineering students won first place in last year’s National Timber Bridge Design Competition, which is open to student chapters of American Society of Civil Engineers and Forest Products Society in the United States and Canada.

The MSU College of Engineering is one of the premier research sites in the country. A year ago, the National Science Foundation listed the college as 34th among the different engineering schools in the country in research expenditures, and that was with $39 million in research dollars. Now the college has more than $46 million in research dollars. Record research years have been reported at MSU’s Engineering Research Center and at the Starkville campus’ Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory.

This year the MSU College of Engineering will turn 100 years old, as will the McCain engineering building.

Breck Stringer, who graduated from MSU’s industrial engineering program last December, said the fact he was a student of MSU made it easier for him to find a job. Stringer now works for Eaton Corporation in Shawnee, Okla.

“Luckily I had my foot in the door at a couple of places,” Stringer said.

Stringer participated in MSU’s cooperative education program. In co-op, a student alternates work and academics for three semesters. This gives students the opportunity to combine “real-world” and academic aspects of engineering while still in school. Co-op students earn approximately $20,000-$30,000 during the work term, and graduates are in great demand, earning approximately 15% to 20% higher starting salaries after graduation.

“The (MSU) name carries weight, and that’s the first thing you want to look for,” Stringer said.

Ashley Parker graduated from MSU’s civil engineering program last December. She could have gone to Louisiana State University or Auburn, but she chose MSU instead.

“I wanted to go to a good engineering school that wasn’t too far from my hometown,” said Parker, a Brookhaven native. Parker, who now works for Waggoner Engineering Inc. in Jackson as a project engineer, says she is happy she chose MSU for several reasons, including the Engineering Ambassadors program, of which she was a part. The program works to bring back various MSU alumni.

But there were other reasons Parker chose MSU —its reputation, for example.

“I chose to stay in Mississippi to work, but I had the opportunity to go to Houston,” Parker said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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