Student in engineering labTICUA member institution wants curriculum to meet local engineering needs and offer a pipeline of locally grown talent

Workforce development is key in training the next generation of advanced energy workers. One Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee has partnered with local industry leaders to form the only hands-on mechanical and electrical engineering programs in the region. 

In 2016, Milligan University formed its first engineering program to ensure its curriculum and mission matched industrial engineering needs and offered a future pipeline of locally grown talent. Offering two majors – mechanical and electrical – the engineering program combines theory and practice, ensuring its graduates are either ready to step right into a position in their field or pursue an advanced degree after graduation. Students benefit from a knowledgeable faculty, practical training, internships, a Co-Op program and a capstone design project, where they use their knowledge and skills to solve a real-world problem in their community or around the world. 

Dr. Greg Harrell is the Director of Engineering Programs at Milligan University. He previously taught at Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Prior to academia, he worked as an engineer for BASF Corporation and is currently a Senior Associate at Energy Management Services. He is passionate about practical engineering education.

“Initially, I came on in an advisory position to determine what it would look like if Milligan had an engineering school. What disciplines would we teach? What faculty would we need? What labs are required? What space would be necessary?” says Dr. Harrell. “We worked together on a plan to see if it made sense to have engineering at Milligan and everything pointed to yes. Once the plan was solidified, I was humbled because Milligan asked me to lead it.”

One of the program’s early supporters was Eastman, a global advanced materials and specialty additives company headquartered in Kingsport. 

“Our partners have truly shaped what we teach, how we teach and the hands-on experiences our students receive,” says Dr. Harrell about all the program’s industrial partners. “Eastman is one of our earliest and largest supporters — Eastman is an invaluable partner. Eastman not only supports us financially, which we appreciate tremendously, but they have also been instrumental in developing our curriculum.”

Two of the main hallmarks of the program are a commitment to practical engineering training and mentoring relationships between faculty and students. In their labs and coursework, students are trained on equipment and processes, so they are ready to directly enter the workplace. They also benefit from mentorships with their professors.

Student working in engineering lab“Our focus here at Milligan is undergraduate engineering education. Most engineers get an undergraduate degree and go to work. We want to serve that population,” says Dr. Harrell. “But we also pay significant attention to the relationship between our faculty and our students. The students are going to know their professors and our faculty know them by name.”

Currently, 100 students are enrolled in Milligan University’s engineering program and of the 27 graduates, 23 are already practicing engineers all around the Tri-Cities area and beyond with some working in Texas, Missouri and Connecticut. 

“All of our students are fantastic. We’ve had students come to us, hear what we’re doing, see our focal points, and say this is what I want to do,” says Dr. Harrell. “Our first class that came in was phenomenal. If I had a bunch of classrooms full of those students, we could turn the world around.”

Milligan University is a member institution of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA). TICUA is one of the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council’s newest members. Learn more about TICUA here or Milligan University’s engineering program here.

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