Hickenlooper gets first hand look at ASU’s groundbreaking mechanical engineering program

Senator John Hickenlooper gets some hands-on experience in robotics, which is part of the curriculum in ASU's groundbreaking mechanical engineering program. Also pictured, Physics Professor Dr. Nehring of ASU. Senators Hickenlooper and Bennet secured $1.1 million in funding for the program. Courier photo by Priscilla Waggoner

ALAMOSA – “I love everything I see, and this program is remarkable. Think of the curiosity that will be created here. When I go back to Washington and we talk Congressionally Directed Spending, I can tell my fellow senators here is this university in southern Colorado that may not be viewed as a high-powered university but they’re really doing some remarkable things. And I know that because I’ve seen it.”

Those were part of Senator Hickenlooper’s statements at the conclusion of a tour that, along with several staff members and a group of civic leaders, non-profit leaders, and Adams State University and Trinidad State College faculty and staff, he took of the Porter Building, the future site of Adams State University’s (ASU) groundbreaking mechanical engineering program.

Senator Hickenlooper along with Senator Bennet were responsible for securing $1.1 in Congressionally Directed Spending for the highly innovative plan.

The ASU/CSU mechanical engineering program is the result of a strong collaborative effort between the two universities to bring CSU’s prestigious, high-quality mechanical engineering to the San Luis Valley, something that would not have been feasible before.

According to ASU Physics Professor Dr. Matt Nehring, who conducted the tour, the program’s curriculum has been adapted from CSU’s existing four-year program so that students enrolled at ASU will take their first two years of coursework in mechanical engineering at ASU. Then, upon acceptance to the program, students will transfer to CSU for their remaining two years. Those who successfully complete the program will receive their Bachelor’s degree from CSU, a highly respected program ranked third among all mechanical engineering programs in the state.

According to Nehring, CSU ultimately plans to have four to five faculty members located on the ASU campus but is clear the benefits go both ways.

“This program isn’t just good for Adams State,” Nehring says. “CSU has a large program in mechanical engineering but lacks diversity in their students.” According to Nehring, students transferring from ASU will provide that diversity CSU is seeking.

The mechanical engineering program located in Porter Hall will consist of separate lab spaces devoted to a Physics Lab, that will be equipped with wind turbines, water turbines and a jet engine; a Mechatronics – technology which combines electronics and mechanical engineering involving the study of robotics where 300 level courses will be offered, Physics and a Machine lab that will function as a “full-blown machine shop”.

Nehring also said that a four-year program is not the only option for ASU students interested in mechanical engineering. The university also offers a two-year program for those who may be more interested in a shorter program that still provides them with the education they seek.

In a conversation held in the building’s STEM Center following the tour, a number of people added their perspective on the significant difference the program can make in the lives of students, not only allowing them to realize their full potential in a familiar, supportive educational setting but also providing them with the opportunity to work in a high paying, high demand profession.

Comments also reflected a strong consensus that growing students to enter a field like mechanical engineering is a process involving total community involvement.

“One of our fundamental missions at the university is serving the SLV in a way that’s cooperative and accesses the talents of people in government, non-profits and health and is a resource that adds to the existing talent,” said Dr. Tandberg, interim president of Adams State. “I see the mechanical engineering program as a sweet spot where the university can do something other organizations can’t do. But to be successful, it’s going to take cooperation and partnerships – like with the city and all the school districts – to really make it work and harness its potential. You think about the ‘field of dreams’ – build it and they will come. And I think if we build innovative programs like this, it’s going to attract employers, and that’s going to benefit the program even more.”

“Knowledge is power but applied knowledge is even more powerful,” said Mayor Ty Coleman. “The education students will receive in this program at this university will directly apply to their experiences working in the workforce and that will happen throughout their lives.”

The tour at ASU was part of a series of conversations Senator Hickenlooper had while in the San Luis Valley. Earlier in the day, he and his staff had been in a roundtable discussion related to water, involving more than 40 people from multiple organizations.

“I love everything I’ve heard in the valley,” he said before leaving. “There is a true spirit of cooperation in everything people are doing here.”

Although Senator Michael Bennet was not able to attend the tour, a statement was received from his spokesperson. “This federal funding will help Adams State University launch an engineering program that will create more opportunity for economic growth in the San Luis Valley. These are exactly the kinds of federal investments we should be making in communities across our state.”

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