Illinois State’s new College of Engineering took another big step forward May 6 when the Board of Trustees approved the creation of the University’s seventh college. This move follows the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s approval of the engineering program in March.

In an interview last week, Dr. Aondover Tarhule, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, spoke about his vision for the program and what Redbirds can expect to see next.

What are the next steps?

Illinois State will create a committee to launch a nationwide search for a founding dean. Tarhule said the University is looking for a candidate who is passionate about building something new and innovative.

“We’ll cast a net widely, review the visions of the people who apply, and end up picking the best one,” he said.

Tarhule hopes a new dean will be at Illinois State by spring 2023. Once the dean is hired, nationwide searches will begin for other roles within the college, including department chairs, an associate dean, and a diversity officer.

Additionally, Tarhule will lead a committee composed of current Illinois State faculty who will work with a consulting firm to craft curriculum for the college. The process will get underway this summer to ensure that a curriculum is in place by the time the first cohort of engineering students arrive on campus in fall 2025. Tarhule anticipates that the process will take a year and a half.

Where will the college be located?

The University will house the college in the John Green Building, which is located on Gregory Street near Cardinal Court. The 80,000-square-foot building is primarily used as a warehouse for materials necessary for the University’s coronavirus (COVID-19) response. With the approval of the college, one of the next steps will be to find a new warehouse to accommodate those materials and staff that work in the building currently.

The building will then be renovated at an estimated cost of $45 to $55 million. As part of the initial Board of Trustees’ approval, the University secured funding to hire an architect to begin designing the renovated space.

Additionally, with the new College of Engineering on the horizon and an initiative to enroll 400 more students in the Mennonite College of Nursing, new laboratories will need to be created. This effort is currently in the planning stages.

John Green Building Exterior
The John Green Building will be renovated in order to house the new College of Engineering.

Why is Illinois State starting an engineering program?

Initial discussions about offering engineering degrees at Illinois State first started in 2016, and one of the data points found was that the state does not produce enough engineers to meet the demand of employers. Additionally, engineering degrees will enable Illinois State to attract a new group of students.

“The big part of this in my mind is trying to create something unique, innovative, different, and designed for the 21st century,” Tarhule said.

What degrees will be offered?

The College of Engineering will launch with two departments, the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Students will be able to pursue degrees in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and general engineering.

How will engineering be different at Illinois State?

Tarhule identified four pillars that the College of Engineering was built on to ensure it is strongly differentiated from programs available at other institutions.

First, the program is being designed with an equity lens to help close long-standing gaps in enrollment, retention, and graduation of underrepresented and underserved students in the engineering field. Women only make up about 20 percent of the enrollment in engineering programs and racial minorities are in the single digits, Tarhule said. The College of Engineering at Illinois State will work to change those numbers through the utilization of industrywide strategies that have been proven to draw a more diverse workforce into the field of engineering.

“We have looked very intentionally at those strategies, and we are planning to adapt and implement them to ensure that we help the students succeed as much as possible,” Tarhule said.

What are the other pillars of the college?

Illinois State’s engineering program will prepare students to enter the workforce, whereas some engineering programs are more theoretical than practical, Tarhule said. Illinois State’s engineering students will be placed in situations through internships, externships, and experiential learning that will make them feel like they are already on the job.

“Our goal is to produce engineers who will be workforce ready,” he said. “They will be able to walk out of their degree program and walk onto a job and perform competently because that is the way we have prepared them.”

Illinois State’s College of Engineering will set up students for success. Tarhule aims for the University’s engineering students to graduate at the same or better rate than the rest of the student population at Illinois State. That rate is 68 percent, while nationally only about 50 percent of engineering students complete their degree, Tarhule said.

“One of the things that particularly elite programs like to do is to brag about their exclusivity,” he said. “We’ve often had people say that you go to some of these top-notch programs, and they’ll tell the students, ‘Look to your left, look to your right, one of you is not going to be here in four years.’ We want to do the exact opposite.”

And finally, Tarhule wants an engineering program that is designed with the 21st century in mind. The decision to build the College of Engineering from the ground up instead of creating a department within an existing college came from a desire to start a program that was forward-thinking, unbound from legacy practices, and able to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

“We’re offering an approach that I think will resonate with students who are looking for a different type of experience,” Tarhule said.

How many students will be enrolled, and are scholarships available?

The University has set a goal to have 130 students enrolled in the College of Engineering when it launches, with overall enrollment rising to 520 students by the college’s fourth year. To do that, Illinois State will be aggressively recruiting high-achieving students nationally and internationally.

Scholarships will be available, with approximately $500,000 allocated each year to attract students. Half of that amount will be designated to support traditionally underserved and underrepresented students.

Keep up-to-date with the new College of Engineering by visiting its website.