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Engineering schools in Mississippi produce graduates vital to state’s work force

By BECKY GILLETTE

Mississippi industries have a big demand for workers with engineering degrees, a fact that puts graduates from engineering schools in the state in a good position to land jobs that earn far above the state’s average salaries.

David Puleo

Chris Winstead

The largest engineering school is the state is the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University (MSU), which had had 4,715 students in the fall 2018 semester.

“Although it is a large college, ranking in the top 50 for undergraduate enrollment as reported by the American Society of Engineering Education, we deliver a student-focused, hands-on curriculum that prepares our students to hit the ground running for successful careers in industry, graduate school, medical school, law school, or veterinary school,” said Bagley College of Engineering Dean Dr. Jason Keith. “We have two dozen student competition teams that have won numerous awards, including the EcoCAR mobility challenge, Space Cowboys rocket team, NASA Robotic Mining Team, and the Concrete Canoe.”

The Bagley College of Engineering works closely with the Office of Research and Economic Development and the Mississippi Development Authority to recruit strong companies to locate their facilities in Mississippi. This brings engineering jobs, and a large number of other skilled labor jobs, into the state. Keith said this helps the economic competitiveness of the state compared with its peers not only in the Southeast, but also in the nation.

“Companies that hire large cohorts from Mississippi State University in engineering include International Paper, Chevron, Southern Company, ExxonMobil, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Keith said. “The starting salary of our graduates from MSU Engineering is nearly $70,000, and some graduates who enter the oil and gas industry can be hired at salaries exceeding $100,000 per year.”

Quite a few different types of engineering degrees are offered. Keith said that is because engineering jobs require specific specializations.

“Over the past several decades, new engineering disciplines have been born to address the needs of industry,” he said. “And all of these degrees attract a large number of students. In addition to their teaching responsibilities, our faculty remain on the leading edge of research in their respective fields. Maintaining a strong faculty-to-student ratio allows our students to get the most from their time in the classroom and creates opportunities for them to be heavily involved in the world class research that takes place here every day.”

University of Mississippi (UM) School of Engineering Dean Dr. David A. Puleo said specialization allows students to gain skills and knowledge in a chosen area of emphasis. Examples include manufacturing at the undergraduate level and aeroacoustics or electromagnetics at the graduate level. Gaining the training and experience to develop expertise in a particular area will prepare student to complete the work or focus on that area effectively.

“Educating engineers and computer scientists is critically important for Mississippi.  Engineering-related occupations are some of the highest-paying and stable careers,” Puleo said. “In Mississippi, the average wage for engineers is $73,690. In some engineering professions in Mississippi, average entry-level wages are as high as $83,910. The UM School of Engineering is committed to preparing engineers to earn the high-paying jobs that the state has to offer. Recent graduates work for state, federal, and private employers across the state, including BorgWarner, C Spire, Cooper Tire and Rubber, Corelogic|FNC, International Paper Co., Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Mississippi Department of Transportation, National Sedimentation Laboratory, Raytheon, SOAIR LLC, Sun-Pine, Corp. Tecumseh Products, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Puleo said they strongly encourage students to engage in experiential activities, including internships and cooperative education. These experiences provide students with the unique opportunity of working in a professional capacity for different lengths of time, from the summer to several months, during their tenure as an undergraduate student. Students work side-by-side with full-time engineers and other professionals on projects that might range from design to sales to problem solving.

“In the end, with this preparation, students are more competitive when entering the full-time job market,” Puleo said. “Also, the availability of a well-prepared workforce of engineers and computer scientists is a key consideration for industries expanding in Mississippi or locating a facility in the state.”

Dr. Chris Winstead, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), said cutting-edge industries need to locate where they have access to a highly educated population with the skills relevant for their work.

“Connections to strong academic and research programs in the state are powerful influences,” Winstead said. “We’ll have much more success in recruiting and, very importantly, retaining high-tech industries in the state, if we can supply engineers who are committed to living and working in Mississippi. People born and raised here, people educated here, often would prefer to stay if the jobs are here, as well.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects engineering employment will grow faster over the next several years than the average for all occupations.

Winstead said USM’s three engineering programs, which are relatively new, are built upon historic strengths of the institution.

“Two of these programs, ocean engineering and polymer science and engineering, are unique in the state and quite rare nationally,” Winstead said. “Polymer science and engineering focuses on understanding, developing, and applying novel materials in aerospace, electronic, medical, and many other applications.  Ocean engineering focuses on the design, application, and implementation of new technologies for the marine environment, including autonomous underwater vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, marine infrastructure, and sensor systems.

“Our third program, computer engineering, is focused on the ever-expanding integration of computing systems into all technologies. Computer engineers work in the design, development, and integration of hardware, software, and network systems.  Think of almost any technology, such as defense systems, aerospace systems, automobiles, mobile phones, and even kitchen appliances, and chances are that a computer engineer was involved in its design.  Cybersecurity is a key focus for our computer engineering program. “

Winstead said as the complexities of various technologies, methods and systems increase, there is a natural drive toward increasing specialization.

“Working at the cutting edge for new technologies requires deep knowledge in highly specific areas,” he said. “It’s very much like the specialization that we see in medical practice. There is so much knowledge that it’s very difficult for one person to be an expert in all areas.”

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About Becky Gillette