Every day is an exciting day to be involved in higher education at Northern Arizona University. Our work benefits our communities, inspires our students and advances the pursuit of knowledge. Some days, however, are especially memorable – and the Arizona Board of Regents’ recent approval of a new NAU College of Engineering, Informatics and Applied Sciences was one of those days.
The creation of CEIAS is not just an administrative change. It is recognition of the excellence that has made our College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences so successful, and an investment in our university’s ability to do even more. It is an acknowledgment of the key role NAU plays in shaping the workforce Arizona demands, and a willingness to rise to meet that challenge. It is an announcement that our students and our faculty will be ready to enhance sustainability in our natural environment and lead in the transforming worlds of technology and infrastructure.
We know there is a need for this new college. Growing interest in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has drawn increasing numbers of students to our excellent programs. Our engineering programs serve almost 40 percent of students at CEFNS, and our current engineering research teams produced 8.5 percent of the $39.6 million of NAU’s fiscal year 2016 research expenditures. We expect our new and renewed engineering programs will enroll more than 3,300 undergraduates and nearly 100 graduate students by 2022.
We know there is a responsibility to provide high-quality degrees that meet the growing need for a qualified workforce ready to meet demands of an evolving economy. A report from The Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity predicts that by 2024 there will be more than 12,000 new jobs in engineering occupations in Arizona and more than 35,000 jobs in computer occupations. NAU is uniquely suited to prepare students in every corner of the state for these opportunities. Through our community campus and online options, our ties to urban centers and rural areas of Arizona ensure no one is left behind as workforce opportunities increasingly shift toward STEM skills.
We know there is a way to advance our engineering programs and our forestry and natural science programs. The reorganization of these colleges is the culmination of months of work and input from NAU faculty and staff at all levels and in all programs. We held four open forums to explain the process and invite suggestions and engaged our faculty across campus in the discussions. NAU has long been known for our excellence in environmental and forestry studies and research, and the creation of a separate CEIAS ensures we continue our focus on the important study of our natural world through the renowned work of the experts who will continue to lead the College of the Environment, Forestry and Natural Sciences.
Every day at NAU we work hard to ensure we prepare our students for success. As we launch our new college structures this fall, we will raise our university’s existing success to a new level and create more opportunities to shape the workforce Arizona needs. QCBN
Rita Cheng is the president of Northern Arizona University.