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STEM investment, new engineering school at CSU Channel Islands priority

By   /   Friday, May 22nd, 2015  /   Comments Off on STEM investment, new engineering school at CSU Channel Islands priority

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By Jacqui Irwin

Ventura County is home to some of the most exciting and cutting edge companies in the world.

Nationally recognized corporations and entrepreneurial high-technology companies like Amgen, Haas Automation, SemTech, and Teledyne Technologies all have a footprint in Ventura County.  Additionally, Ventura County was recently designated as one of the state’s four innovation hubs designed to spur job growth in these industries. While this is good news for our community and the local economy, the bad news is that the county lacks enough qualified people to fill the jobs.  I believe that by creating an engineering school at CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) we will be in a better position to support our existing industries and encourage new companies to locate here.

Pacific Coast Business Times published an article on May 8, 2015 indicating how an engineering school at the youngest CSU could significantly help our local economy. According to that article, these high-tech businesses make up the Highway 101 Tech Corridor and offer hundreds of engineering jobs but often must hire employees from outside the region.

An engineering program at CSUCI is a natural progression for this growing university. It is essential for preparing students for the 21st century job market, and is also one of my top legislative priorities for my first term in office. The presence of an engineering program will enable CSUCI to better serve the needs of the regional economy and the state as a whole.

Ventura County sits between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties and while colleges and universities in both counties offer a strong engineering program, our region doesn’t. This causes us to have to compete with them to retain our workforce.

In 2012, CSUCI conducted a regional assessment of the need for an engineering school on campus.  The study found that Ventura County in particular suffers from a shortage of engineers compared to the neighboring counties of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  Further, the study found that nearly half of the Ventura County employers that were interviewed are planning on hiring more engineers beyond the natural attrition rate. Due to this demand, CSUCI is in a unique position to attract and retain engineering talent in Ventura County.  Establishing an engineering school will address the needs of the regional economy by better preparing for the expanding job market.

Providing the opportunity to study engineering at CSUCI will be particularly impactful because it will offer access to groups that are typically underrepresented in engineering and STEM careers. Women earn nearly 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, but in California only 15 percent of engineering graduates are women.

According to a report from the American Association of University Women titled Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, expanding and developing the STEM workforce is a critical issue for government, industry leaders, and educators.

In addition, over the last decade less than 10 percent of engineering graduates have been Latino.  CSUCI is in a position to help provide more balance in this arena as 70 percent of the student body is female and the school is recognized as a “Hispanic-serving institution” where approximately 40 percent of undergraduates are Latino. This investment at CSUCI will provide opportunities for women and Latinos in engineering and other STEM careers.

CSUCI is proposing a measured approach to establishing the engineering school. It would begin by creating a Mechatronics major, which has been identified as an engineering degree in high demand both regionally and throughout the state. CSUCI currently offers a robust curriculum that can serve as the foundation of the new major and it also has several minors with similar requirements. A primary investment of $500,000 per year for the first three years would support three new faculty members and the equipment necessary to launch the program.

In addition, several local companies have expressed interest in supporting an engineering school through internships, campus recruiting and other involvement. This represents a targeted investment that will leverage one of the best areas of potential in California’s higher education system.

In March, I sent a letter to the chair of the Assembly Budget Committee requesting the funds necessary to start the engineering school.  Since then, I’ve had over 50 local organizations also send letters in support of the proposal.  Please join me in supporting this worthwhile investment that can result in an innovative public-private partnership to provide dividends locally and across the state for years to come. Visit www.asmdc.org/Irwin/CSUCIEngrSchool and sign the petition to let Sacramento know this is an important priority for Ventura County.

• Jacqui Irwin is a District 44 Assembly member from Thousand Oaks.

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