Principia’s engineering major has been around for over 50 years. In the mid-90s, engineering professor Chris O’Riordan-Adjah was among the first students at Principia to take engineering courses at another university as part of the dual degree program. O’Riordan-Adjah calls himself “a guinea pig of sorts.”
Why was O’Riordan-Adjah taking classes at another school? Because while Principia offered an engineering major, it did not, and still does not, have the facilities to offer an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)-accredited engineering degree.
However, Principia circumvented its limitations by offering aspiring engineering majors the 3+2 program, in which students obtain two degrees. One degree is a B.S. in engineering science with a concentration in a specific area from Principia, and the other is an ABET-accredited B.S. in engineering from a university that Principia has an agreement with.
The timeline of the 3+2 program is as follows: students complete three years of foundational science courses at Principia, then take two more years of engineering classes at another college or university. Upon completion of the first year at the second university, the student has fulfilled the degree requirements for the Principia B.S. in engineering science. This degree is not ABET-accredited, and so students cannot be practicing engineers with it. Once they complete the second year at their second university, they are then granted an ABET-accredited engineering degree from that school and can start practicing as an engineer.
Principia made agreements with schools like SIUE, Washington University, and USC that allowed expedited transfer of students’ credits into their specialized engineering programs. According to Dean of Academics Joe Ritter, the Washington University contract is no longer active, but the University of Minnesota was added instead. The USC contract is also currently being rewritten by O’Riordan-Adjah.
However, there were a few aspects of the original 3+2 program that were less than desirable. For example, engineering majors faced the transition of switching schools midway through their college experience. This could be difficult both academically and socially. Also, when students transferred schools, financial aid from Principia did not go with them. The cost of studying at a different university placed a heavy financial burden on many students’ shoulders.
Recently, however, the Principia administration learned about a remote-learning engineering program at Benedictine College. By adopting the remote learning model, Principia is now able to offer engineering majors the chance to stay at Principia for their entire college experience. At the same time, Principia will not have to spend millions of dollars to create a full engineering program from scratch.
Instead, Principia engineering majors take a combination of classes from Principia and the University of North Dakota (UND). While the remote UND courses are tough, students only have to spend four weeks over two summers doing intensive labs away from Principia, instead of two full years. Ritter noted the change that this created for Principia. He said “[This semester, O’Riordan-Adjah] has 23 [students] in his Introduction to Engineering class. I taught that for two decades, and we maybe had six.”
The UND 3+2 remote learning program differs significantly from the 3+2 program at the University of Minnesota because it is covered by Principia’s financial aid. This includes the online UND classes. Like all 3+2 engineering programs at Principia, students can walk in the graduation ceremonies for both colleges from which they received a degree.
Although there may be hurdles along the way, the new remote program is a step forward in supporting engineering students. With the Introduction to Engineering course already filled to capacity, a proactive professor, and interest within the student body, things look promising.