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First mechanical engineering students graduate today from IUPUC

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Stocking shelves at a grocery store requires some degree of mechanics and engineering, just not to the degree that comes from a four-year education.

Columbus native Richard Weafer had engineered his way into a part-time job at Marsh Supermarkets after high school, but experience taught him that he wanted something more.

He enrolled in general education classes part time at IUPUC and applied to the IUPUI mechanical engineering program when it was launched locally in 2011.

The Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering is a Purdue University degree, but all classes can be completed in Columbus.

Weafer and classmates Mitchell Hall and Cody Surenkamp of Seymour will be awarded the first batch of the degrees from IUPUC today.

“Because of the mechanical engineering program at IUPUC, my dream is becoming a reality,” Weafer said.

The beginnings

As the world headquarters of diesel-engine maker Cummins, Columbus has the highest concentration of mechanical engineers in the nation: an estimated 31 per 1,000 workers, according to the Columbus Economic Development Board.

So people already trained in mechanical engineering are attracted to the region, but those trying to enter the profession were forced to go elsewhere for their education.

That changed when IUPUC rolled out its first four-year mechanical engineering program.

The program is made possible by a $38 million, 10-county push called Economic Opportunity 2015, which seeks to raise education levels across the board.

Nearly $15 million of that money was put toward building the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Columbus, which opened in June 2011, offering a 43,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.

That’s where IUPUC students studying mechanical engineering can now conduct lab work.

Vice Chancellor and Dean Marwan Wafa said the program was launched because it had a high potential for return on investment. The Columbus community, rich in engineering opportunities, could reap the benefits of newly trained mechanical engineers.

That’s proving to be the case as the first class enters the workforce.

The outcomes

All three graduates have either contributed to local companies through internships or have full-time positions lined up with them:

Weafer was selected to participate in an internship at Cummins, where he worked in the heavy-duty engineering area as a data analyst. He’s currently interning at Faurecia as a program development lead specializing in exhaust systems.

Hall completed a design engineering internship at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, which he said gave him a good feel of the corporate world. He’s considering several options for his future, including working for a small firm or continuing his education.

Surenkamp has been offered a full-time position in lab operations at Cummins, where he will participate in controlled test procedures to evaluate product performance and resolve test cell issues.

Tom Lawrence, co-founder of Aerodyn Engineering in Indianapolis and an instructor at IUPUC, said that’s one of the perks of the program.

Industry leaders say the U.S. needs 10,000 more college graduates per year to keep up with demand in the field.

“As a result, there’s a high demand for the people here,” he said.

The future

The three graduates were guinea pigs, of sorts.

They realized some of the strengths of the program — like the proximity to firms such as Cummins and Faurecia that offer internships and instructors — and they realized how the program can grow.

Lawrence said he would like to see more students enroll. There are about five juniors set to graduate within the next few semesters, and behind them there are about 15 sophomores.

Although students don’t enter the program until they have completed general education requirements their sophomore year, about 25 to 30 freshman are poised to enter next year — and Lawrence said that’s a good number.

The university is adding a full-time mechanical engineering lecturer to teach four classes a semester beginning in the fall.

Weafer, Hall and Surenkamp are excited to graduate today, and they reflected on how much money and time they saved by earning their degree at the Columbus campus rather than commuting to IUPUI in downtown Indianapolis.

“In 20 years, I will be able to visit IUPUC and tell the students that I was one of the first of three to graduate,” Hall said. “IUPUC has given me one of the best opportunities in my life.”

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