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ISU College of Engineering plans are still developing

Terri Goss Kinzy
Emily Bollinger
Illinois State University President Terri Goss Kinzy.

It was hoped last month that the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) would approve a new College of Engineering proposal by Illinois State University. It didn’t happen. But it's still very much on ISU's to-do list.

University President Terri Goss Kinzy characterized the process as collaborative with IBHE staff.

“We're just working through a bit more detail than might normally be in one of these proposals. And I actually think it reflects the fact that the IBHE sees this as an opportunity, and they're looking to help us make this be a really impactful change,” said Goss Kinzy on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

She said the new college is a lot bigger than most new initiatives that go before the board of higher ed. They're usually a major, or a program — not a full-sized chunk of a university.

Goss Kinzy said both ISU and the IBHE board want a new approach to diverse recruitment of students.

“Engineering programs notoriously only graduate about 50% of their students, as engineers. That's a good outcome,” said Goss Kinzy. “I think it's important, they're challenging us to think about ways to not accept the status quo in engineering because our goal is to have a really different program.”

Because of that high attrition, she said engineers can tend to be homogenous as a group, adding there may need to be additional academic support to make sure non-traditional engineering students can succeed.

Students are not the only part of a college of engineering that are a monolith. Departments hire faculty and Goss Kinzy said they tend to hire people they know. It ends up being people who look like them.

“We're already experimenting with new ways that we approach hiring. For example, we have these impartial search advocates that help search firms think about what they're doing,” she said, noting those new models can affect faculty backgrounds as well as demographics.

“How do you recruit to central Illinois, someone who may have experience in electrical engineering from a sunny state where they're doing a lot of solar work, right? And bringing in the diversity of ideas, diversity of universities, that people come from international perspectives on engineering. So, I think it's going to be our approach of how we build this from the ground up,” said Goss Kinzy.

There's also a chance to shift what is traditionally taught in engineering programs.

“What does modern engineering look like? There are skills, and then there are what we used to call soft skills, but I just heard called power skills, where our engineers have that human basis to what they do. And so we have this very aspirational goal for our College of Engineering,“ said Goss Kinzy.

Goss Kinzy said she's still confident final approval for the engineering school at ISU will come from the IBHE this year.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.