Racing to Meet Workforce Demands: UNL College of Engineering puts Mentoring at Forefront

Nebraska’s future depends on a robust economy with jobs that welcome college graduates that are experts in all industries. University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Engineering is helping train the next generation of engineers to launch successful careers that not only build a stronger Nebraska, but a stronger world.  

The College of Engineering is seeing rapid growth and with that has come new partnerships –– most notably with the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). This is allowing students to receive real-world experience that will help them develop into well-rounded engineers that are capable of tackling projects of all sizes.

Workforce Benefits

The growth that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has seen recently has pushed campus growth. 

Lance C. Pérez, dean of the College of Engineering and Omar H. Heins Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, reported that this academic year the college’s total undergraduate enrollment is up 7% from last year (3,235 students). First-time freshmen are also up 8.4%. 

The college is amid a $190 million facilities project. Financial support comes from the state of Nebraska, the university, and private and corporate donors. 

The new three-story Engineering Research Center, which opened this past summer, showcases 50 state-of-the-art labs and collaborative spaces for graduate students. Currently, Scott Engineering Center is undergoing a 68,000-square-foot renovation to add more research labs and classrooms, and the $115 million Kiewit Hall is slated to open in Spring 2024 to serve engineering students at UNL. 

With enrollment increasing, partnerships with organizations that help provide professional development tools for engineering students are key. ACEC is specifically working to support engagement opportunities for faculty and students alike by offering the chance to engage with industry leaders at events. 

One of the most popular avenues is the annual Transportation Conference. The most recent workshop on the Nebraska Innovation Campus featured topics crucial to the transportation workforce’s future, such as infrastructure and innovation ideas. Faculty at UNL also serve as speakers or present research at these events and workshops. 

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“This type of commitment, especially with industry leaders presenting from the Nebraska Department of Roads and several consulting firms that do business in Nebraska, goes a long way to ensuring resources are dedicated to meeting the state’s engineering workforce demands,” Pérez said. “The organization also goes out of its way to host topical networking events to educate future engineers on important issues such as ethics in engineering and professionalism.”

The engineering faculty also works to give students experiences collaborating on active projects, exposing them to opportunities that exist in the field.   

“The college and our faculty are dedicated to conducting research that makes a lasting impact not only for Nebraskans and globally, but even in outer space,” Pérez said. 

“For example, Professor Shane Farritor and his team are readying a miniaturized surgical robot via a $100,000 EPSCOR grant for testing aboard the International Space Station. Our faculty provide numerous opportunities for students to collaborate on research in such areas as big data and the built environment – including transportation systems, biomedical engineering and health care environments, energy, materials and manufacturing, and national defense and security.”

Opening Possibilities

ACEC also works closely with the Engineers Clubs in Lincoln and Omaha to raise scholarship funds that are awarded on an annual basis. In Omaha, the club awards one scholarship a year to a high school senior and an individual seeking professional development or career advancement in engineering. The Lincoln club raises funds to support a scholarship program through the University of Nebraska Foundation. 

“These organizations are also supported by the same industry partners that support the college, so it’s a full circle investment by all parties to help assure student and faculty success,” Pérez said.

Engineers Week

Engineers Week, otherwise known as E-Week, is celebrating its 110th year in 2023. In conjunction with National Engineers Week, engineering students in Lincoln and Omaha join to celebrate their academic accomplishments as they work toward graduation and the launch of their careers. 

This year’s E-Week will run from February 19 to 24 and a variety of events will be hosted on both college campuses. The events are planned entirely by the student leaders from the Nebraska Engineering Student Council at Omaha and the Engineering Student Advisory Board. 

This year’s theme, ‘Blast Off’ will feature social events such as trivia and game nights, networking events, design competitions, and ‘lunch and learn’ events with local industry professionals and engineering organizations. Free food and other giveaways will be a part of the festivities. 

“The college is very grateful for the generous support of numerous companies who each year sponsor and provide funding for E-Week,” Pérez said.