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COLUMN: Excited about engineering at IU



When the Indiana Commission for Higher Education approved IU’s creation of an engineering school, I couldn’t have been more excited.

Though most people don’t know much about it, IU will be a great choice for future engineers.

The Intelligent Systems Engineering School, set to open fall 2016, is part of the Bicentennial Campaign, a program that sets goals and plans for student success, research and other initiatives.

With an engineering school, students and faculty at the University will make a greater effect on social problems through research.

IU’s engineering program will focus on areas different from those at Purdue University. While Purdue offers degrees in chemical engineering, electrical engineering and other areas, IU’s engineering program will focus on small-scale, networked problems.

The programs IU will offer include neuro-engineering, bioengineering and computer engineering. Despite these differences between IU and Purdue, the goal is to “cooperate and collaborate and not to compete,” said Deba Dutta, Purdue’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity.

This way, the University will provide unique benefits to society’s needs.

The interdisciplinary nature of these fields will allow students to find solutions to societal problems from a multitude of perspectives. It will also give engineering students the opportunity to work with faculty from other science areas like physics, chemistry and biology, and non-science areas like the Kelley School of Business and the Maurer School of Law.

Through these collaborative efforts, the engineering school will provide both undergraduate and graduate students with the resources they need to build a better future.

Geoffrey Fox, distinguished professor of computer science, informatics and physics, will chair the Intelligent Systems Engineering School.

Fox said he expects the initial class of undergraduate students to be small, probably less than 50. But students and faculty will work closely with other departments so students will have access to a wide variety of resources.

The way the engineers work alongside physicists shows these benefits.

Some people think of physicists and engineers as different in that physicists study theory and equations while engineers apply them for practical uses.

But in reality, there’s no clear boundary between the applied and theoretical areas of scientific research, much like engineering.

Rather, the distinction is more of a gradient or a scale. Research in nanoengineering can be used to create new materials on semiconductors and transistors, while physics work can study those materials for quantum effect properties.

But, through each step of the process, the work of engineers and physicists blend into one another.

This integrated approach will help engineering students understand fundamental scientific problems and their benefits to society. The addition of the Intelligent Systems Engineering School will accomplish just that.

While the engineering school supports the University’s “entrepreneurial culture and economic competitiveness,” as IU President Michael McRobbie said, the purpose of maximizing productivity should not overshadow the need to cultivate intellectually vibrant minds of the future.

This way, the Intelligent Systems Engineering School will attract creative, intelligent students who want a challenging and rewarding experience.

I applaud the University’s efforts and hope for the best.

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