A major expansion of facilities, faculty positions and student enrollment at the University of Kansas School of Engineering took a critical first step toward reality Thursday, March 10, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.
Senate President Steve Morris, R- Hugoton, unveiled a plan to provide $1 million in funding in 2012 that would eventually expand by 60 percent the number of engineers graduating from KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University.
“The good jobs (these additional engineers) will receive will send ripples of positive of effects throughout the state economy,” Morris said.
If approved by the full legislature, the plan would allow the KU School of Engineering to begin work on a full-scale increase in the school’s capacity — and implement Phase II construction of the Building on Excellence Initiative.
“Kansas needs more engineers to grow and prosper, and we’re ready to meet that need,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “There is broad agreement between business leaders and policymakers that the engineering shortage is hampering the economy. If we make this investment in engineering at KU and our fellow schools, it will pay dividends in the form of new jobs for our state.”
Phase II of the initiative would include construction of a second multi-million dollar facility, adjacent to the Measurement, Materials and Sustainable Environment Center currently under construction to the west of Eaton Hall. The new facility would add classroom and laboratory space needed for an increase in students. The Building on Excellence Initiative also calls for hiring additional faculty to educate these students and expand the university’s research, innovation and discovery activities.
“The state support is absolutely critical to our plan and we want to extend a word of appreciation to Senator Morris for his leadership and support of this effort,” said Stuart R. Bell, Dean of the KU School of Engineering. “This is a great day for our industry leaders and for the university as we look at the best ways to grow the resources needed to bolster the Kansas economy.”
Morris was backed on the Senate floor Thursday morning by other Senate leadership, key business leaders from around the state – including the aviation and power industries and some of the state’s largest engineering firms – as well as top officials from KU, K-State and Wichita State. “We would ask our legislative colleagues to join us in advancing this multi-year initiative,” Morris said. “Every year we delay, we put our state’s economic future in further risk. We know many of our leading manufacturing companies and engineering firms are already forced to look elsewhere to fill critical jobs because we cannot meet the demand.”
At Thursday’s news conference, Senator Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said funding would be expanded to $4 million in 2013 and $7 million in 2014. The Expanded Lottery Act Revenue Fund would be used to pay for the initiative.
Officials at the University of Kansas applauded the efforts of leaders in the Kansas Statehouse to support engineering education. Several industry leaders with ties to KU agreed that the proposal comes at a crucial time for businesses in the state.
“Perceptive Software’s success is built on bringing new and innovative products to market,” said Scott Coons, president and CEO of Perceptive Software and a member of the KU School of Engineering Advisory Board. “Talented engineers are one of the keys to our strategy. We must increase the engineering opportunities at our universities to meet the needs of growing and entrepreneurial companies like Perceptive Software. This initiative is an important move forward for the state.”
Jack Pelton, chairman, president and CEO of Cessna and a past member of the school’s advisory board, said additional engineers are key to the firm’s competitiveness.
“A shortage of creative, tech-adept engineers is among the greatest threats to profitable growth,” he said. “If Kansas’ aviation industry, as well as the state’s avionics and navigation industry, is to remain competitive it can’t be hampered by a constriction in the pipeline of innovation. I believe additional support for engineering education in Kansas is essential to the economic progress of this state.”
Leaders of two of Kansas City’s engineering design and consulting powerhouses also shared support for the Senate initiative.
“This Senate proposal is a wonderful step forward for the state of Kansas and the region,” said Greg Graves, CEO of Burns & McDonnell, who also serves on the school’s advisory board. “Burns & McDonnell’s ability to deliver the design and planning services and construction expertise the world needs is dependent upon our ability to find top talent at all levels of the job market. This initiative by leadership in Kansas will set the stage for future success, not only for Burns & McDonnell, but for a number of Kansas’s major employers.”
Jim Lewis, chief administrative officer for Black & Veatch and a member of the school’s advisory board, concurred that the proposal will help fuel the Kansas economy at a critical time.
“Black & Veatch was founded by KU engineering graduates and you can see where that early investment in education has taken Black & Veatch,” he said. “Black & Veatch continues to hire engineers from the universities in Kansas and those engineers create a positive impact on the Kansas economy. Efforts that support educating and graduating more engineers are important investments that will serve industry and deliver great benefits for the state. In February, Black & Veatch announced a long-term commitment to support engineering education in Kansas through our Building a World of Difference charitable foundation. It is gratifying to see the Kansas Senate leadership shares a similar vision of how best to move our economy forward.”