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UNL, UNO engineering program merger meets resistance

  • Cristina Woodworth
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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s two engineering campuses – one in Omaha and one in Lincoln – offer similar classes but have very distinct programs. These separate programs may soon be combined as part of a proposed merge that some opponents are saying will shorthand the Omaha campus and hinder the collaborative approach to engineering classes there.

“The engineering department at UNO is special,” said Timothy Struble-Larsen, a senior electronics engineering and physics major at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “We study theory, but our main focus is hands-on labs.”

The administrative structure of the two campuses is already a little tricky to understand.

The UNL College of Engineering is the only engineering college in Nebraska, which means the programs in Omaha are part of UNL, not UNO. All engineering courses at the Omaha campus are taught by UNL faculty and the engineering students at UNO are technically classified as UNL students.

The merger, then, would be within the UNL College of Engineering between the Computer & Electronics Engineering program in Omaha and the electrical engineering program in Lincoln.

Jane-Stewart Engebretson, the communications and marketing manager for the College of Engineering, said the merge would allow both engineering programs to combine their expertise and resources. The proposed merge would work to streamline the two programs as well and cut down on the number of duplicate courses, Engebretson said.

“This merger has been proposed to help the college become more efficient and to streamline our programs and offering to provide the best undergraduate and graduate education in these areas,” Engebretson said.

With the merge, the Omaha campus would gain an electrical engineering program to add to its six other engineering programs: computer, electronics, civil, construction and architectural engineering.

Engebretson said the computer and electronics engineering program would stay in Omaha and a possible Ph.D. program in computer engineering would also be offered there. She said the merge would allow the College of Engineering to gain more status among other Big Ten schools.

“We want to become a recognized Big Ten engineering college, focusing on our students, faculty, staff and academic and research offerings,” she said. “Ultimately, this emphasis will increase the value of the degrees our students earn.”

The proposed merge has stirred up controversy among those who say combining the programs will ruin the different cultures seen at the Omaha and Lincoln campuses, though.

“The two programs are very different,” said Margaux Hoaglund, a junior electronics engineering and mathematics major at UNO. “The program based in Lincoln is very much theory-based and is a great fundamental program for a research-based institution. The program in Omaha, however, is designed to meet the needs of industry. It is one of the most hands-on programs in the country and it does an excellent job in doing so. By merging the programs, it will be very difficult to meet the needs of both programs.”

Struble-Larsen said he experienced both UNL and UNO’s engineering programs after transferring from UNL when he said he had a bad experience with an engineering professor.

“I am concerned UNO’s engineering program would begin to resemble UNL’s,” he said. “I see the merger as beneficial to UNL. As for the Peter Kiewit Institute, which was supposed to become independent from UNL, it seems rather harmful.”

Engebretson said the different atmospheres of the campuses would still be taken into account during the merge.

“All of our engineering programs have their own individual cultures, and we are focusing on providing the best engineering education we can in all areas,” she said. Engebretson said engineering faculty at both campuses are committed to achieving a balance between educational and research components to appeal to students at both campuses.

Hoaglund, though, voiced concerns about having to either take a bus to Lincoln or participate in virtual courses to take classes that will no longer be offered at the Omaha campus.

“Busing would turn a one-hour class into a minimum of a three-hour trek,” Hoaglund said. “And the idea of having a professor in a different city lecture you through a television does not sound appealing or promising.”

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said the merge is a practical way to improve the College of Engineering programs.

“The proposed changes are designed to improve the educational opportunities of all engineering students and to enhance our service to the Omaha community,” Perlman said. “We can do this by taking better advantage of the assets we have at both locations.”

Some UNO students are still not convinced.

“I think the merger will cause a decline in the enrollment and the program will eventually die,” Hoaglund said.

Faculty from both campuses are currently discussing the merge and a proposal is expected to be sent to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents sometime next semester.

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