By BECKY GILLETTE
Editor’s note: The three community colleges referred to in this article are among seven in the state that offer engineering degrees.
Some of the best paying jobs in Mississippi and elsewhere are in engineering, and many of the state’s community and junior colleges provide an affordable path to get a degree that can prepare them to go to work immediately or to complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a four-year college.
“Our tuition and fees are less than half of what you would pay for a public four-year university in Mississippi,” said Dr. Chad Stocks, vice president for work-force and economic development and district coordinator of career and technical education, Hinds Community College (HCC). “When compared to private universities in Mississippi, our tuition is more than 80 percent less.”
In-state annual tuition at HCC for 2017-2018 was about $3,080 compared to an average of $7,389 in public universities in Mississippi and $17,424 in private universities.
Stocks said the majority of their engineering graduates seek employment upon completing their associate’s degree program.
“Although more advanced engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree, many positions are available as engineering technicians in a variety of fields such as civil, architectural, electronics and mechanical engineering, and assisting licensed engineers,” Stocks said. “We do have students who choose to continue their education at a four-year university in parallel programs of studies.”
Recently HCC had 20 graduates in engineering drafting and design technology, 45 graduates in electronics and related engineering technology including biomedical equipment repair, electronics technology and telecommunications technology, and 12 graduates in precision manufacturing and engineering technology.
Engineering may not be a field even considered by many high school graduates. Dr. Kevin McKone, science chair/physics/engineering, Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Co-Lin) for 20 years, said one goal of their engineering program has been to recruit more local students into engineering through robotics outreach including offering summer robotics camps.
“On average, 20-30 freshman engineering students start our program, and the ones that complete our program transfer at the end of their sophomore year to a 4-year engineering university, usually Mississippi State,” McKone said. “As far as I know, 100 percent of our students that transfer from our engineering program to a 4-year engineering school finish their engineering degree. To the best of my knowledge, graduates that chose to stay in engineering have all found jobs in the engineering field.”
The majority of Co-Lin students major in chemical, civil or mechanical engineering. The past few years there has been increased interest in electrical engineering, specifically power engineering.
“Many of our engineering graduates stay in Mississippi working for Georgia Pacific, International Paper, Toyota, ABB, Entergy, MDOT, Continental Tire, Ergon, EDRC, go on to medical school or start their own business,” McKone said. “Some former students have moved off to Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Birmingham and Washington, D.C., opting for larger established companies like Procter and Gamble, and Siemens. We have had some students who stayed local, working with small local engineering companies.”
McKone said their program works closely with smaller local engineering firms that hire students for summer internships or part-time work during the school year. He said this is something engineering students are encouraged to do to get industry experience concurrently with their formal education.
“Our students can also get engineering experience through our underwater robotics team,” he said. “Working with local engineering companies, volunteering at FIRST robotic competitions and working closely with Nissan training has enabled our program to stay current with industry needs. Co-Lin has recently hired Dr. Reed Freeman, a civil engineer with industry experience, to teach our introductory engineering courses. These courses are helping to give our engineering students an overview of different engineering fields, along with engineering projects that emphasize skills industry is interested in.”
These skills include 3D-CAD design, critical thinking through problem solving and statistical analysis of engineering failure. The Co-Lin engineering department also works very closely with the math and computer science department, ensuring students see the relevance of math in engineering courses, and engineering in their math courses.
“The students who work through the rigor of our program successfully transfer to a four-year engineering school, graduate, and are rewarded with a good salary, a satisfying career and many times the ability to stay local,” McKone said.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) also has a robust engineering program. A spokesperson for MGCCC said in addition to the two-year programs being less than half the cost of a four-year university, students have more opportunity for scholarships, such as transfer scholarships and Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society scholarships, that are often times better than freshman scholarships at the universities.
Students can complete a two-year associate of science degree from MGCCC before enrolling in electrical or mechanical engineering classes that will result in bachelor’s degrees from Mississippi State University (MSU). The classes are all offered on-campus at MGCCC-Jackson County Campus in Gautier. This includes all of the MGCCC classes for the students’ first two years. Then, the engineering classes are offered on the MGCCC-Jackson County campus by the MSU Bagley College of Engineering faculty or through synchronous online-delivery from MSU’s Starkville campus.
The engineering program is growing each year. In the fall of 2016, there were 13 students in the electrical engineering program and 26 in the mechanical engineering. In the fall of 2017, there were 24 students in the electrical engineering program and 55 in mechanical. In fall 2018, there were 37 students in the electrical engineering and 63 in the mechanical. For this fall, MGCCC already had 31 electrical engineering and 55 mechanical engineering students registered before the end of July. That number was expected to increase through the upcoming orientations and during fall registration August 19th and 20th.
Chevron, MS Power/Southern Company and Ingalls Shipbuilding are only a few companies that hire engineers in Coast area.
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