The first big news of the year came in May when local entrepreneurs and philanthropists David and Judith Hirschfeld endowed a $1 million gift to ASU to help support the ongoing establishment of the engineering program. The Texas Tech University System Board of Regents then approved the naming of ASU’s Department of Civil Engineering as the “David L. Hirschfeld Department of Engineering.”
“Our focus is going to be using the funding to build the department,” said Dr. William Kitch, department chair. “Initially we’ll be using it for some faculty development resources. We’ll use it for whatever we need to build the premier department we are working toward.”
The next big step toward becoming a premier department got underway in September when ground was broken for construction of the new building that will house the Hunter Strain Engineering Laboratories. The facility will measure about 8,000 square feet and will be the first new academic building on the main campus since the Science III Building was completed in 2005.
“The design looks great,” Kitch said, “so we are all really excited about that. It will be a separate, free-standing building between the Vincent Building and the Super Slab. It’s going to be engineering’s signature building on campus. We really focused with the architect to come up with a design that fits the campus, but has the character to be the focal point of our engineering program.”
“We also want it to be an inviting place for outreach programs,” he added. “So in the lobby, we are going to have some hands-on demonstration equipment that we can not only use for our courses, but also for our outreach efforts for students.”
Engineering students are already working on designs for the first piece of demonstration equipment, an Augmented Reality Sandbox.
“It’s a big sandbox where students of any age can manipulate the sand to make hills and valleys and other things, like we all used to do as kids,” Kitch said. “Over the top of it, it has sensors and a projection system that make up the augmented reality part of it. The sensors gauge the height of the sand piles and project contours on top of them. So you get to see a really good visual of what contour maps are. You can also project virtual rain and watch the water form rivers and lakes.”
The project also presents collaboration opportunities with students and faculty in computer science, mathematics, geology and art for both its design and future use.
Meanwhile, as construction of the new facility continues, engineering students will be able to use the interim engineering lab that is outfitted with more than $500,000 of new equipment and currently housed in the Vincent Nursing-Physical Science Building. And it’s a good thing, because the number of engineering majors has grown from about 50 last fall to more than 120 for the fall 2016 semester, Dr. Alex Mejia and Dr. Daniel Castaneda have joined the faculty, and additional courses have been added to the curriculum.
The more than 70 new engineering students joining the program this fall also include the first transfers from Southwest Texas Junior College through the grant-funded “STEP West Texas” cooperative project between SWTJC and ASU. They first showed up this summer for a bridge course that had them out surveying the campus with ASU engineering students.
“Our first bridge program was a success, and we’ll be teaching the course again this fall,” Kitch said. “So we’ll be out on campus doing surveying again. One of the things I really like about that course is that it’s obvious to everyone that we have an engineering program because we are out there with our surveying instruments. It’s also a key skills course for the students.”
“There is nothing that is going to stop us from achieving our objectives, so it’s a really exciting time.”
Dr. William Kitch
Though the department offices are still temporarily housed in the West Annex building off Johnson Street, Kitch hopes to add 2–3 more faculty this year, and work is progressing toward accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Overall, he is pleased with the first-year progress of the engineering program and optimistic about the future.
“We were on the first year of a four-year hike,” Kitch said. “We’ve got almost everything in our backpack that we need and we’re making good progress, but I’m looking up the mountain and there is a lot more climbing still to be done.”
“We’ve been able to hire high-quality faculty, and the support from the university leadership has been great,” he added. “There is nothing that is going to stop us from achieving our objectives, so it’s a really exciting time.”