UMaine’s new Ferland center will meet an “incredible demand” for engineers

The $78 million E. James and Eileen P. Ferland Engineering Training and Design Center, the largest project of its kind at UMaine, officially opened last week.

The 105,000 square foot center, with the capacity to increase engineering enrollment by a third, represents a new chapter in engineering education to better meet the needs of students and employers.

The center houses the mechanical engineering department and the biomedical engineering program; teaching laboratories for the mechanical engineering technology program; a student project design suite; workshops for biomedical engineering, electronics, 3D printing, vehicles, metals, wood and composites; and an on-campus STEM Welcome and Outreach Center.

UMaine College of Engineering Dean Dana Humphrey said the center, together with an investment from the Harold Alfond Foundation in the Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science, positions the university to provide industries , communities and employers with the skilled workers and innovation needed to meet demand. and advance Maine.

Humphrey has been at UMaine since 1986 and dean since 2007. As he prepares to retire — his last day on the job is Wednesday — he shared some more thoughts on the program’s potential. Here is an edited transcript.

Mainebiz: How has engineering education and design evolved over the years?

Dana Humphrey: When I became a faculty member, we were still teaching students to draw with a pencil and a triangle. It’s completely gone. The ability to have personal computers at low cost and every student owns one – that’s probably the biggest change.

MB: Has the subject evolved?

DH: The fundamentals of engineering have remained the same. But we’ve made great strides with applications like designing with composites, designing in a more sustainable way, progress in how we generate the energy we need for everyday life. It has changed a lot.

MB: Could you discuss the need for more engineers?

DH: We are not training enough engineers. For example, last year in Maine, there were six entry-level job openings per graduate for electrical engineers and four civil engineer job openings per graduate. The placement rate of our graduates over the last two survey years was 100%. All this shows an incredible demand. The Ferland building will allow us to increase the number of our undergraduate students by about a third, or 600 students. And it will give them a completely different learning experience, so the quality of the engineers we are going to train will increase.

MB: Could you give an example of this “completely different learning experience?” »

DH: The student design suite has 44 workbenches that we can assign to students for a semester or a year. It is their space and they will build their projects there. We’ll have multiple disciplines working together, because that’s what happens in the real world. Engineers work in teams across disciplinary boundaries.

The bench area is surrounded by shops. Students will be able to go to the workshops, make their components, return to their benches and build their projects.

MB: How were the students doing before this setup?

DH: We had hands-on projects for a long time, but they were spread across our five engineering buildings, so they weren’t getting the same cross-disciplinary experience that we wanted them to have and needed. The sequel gives them that opportunity.

MB: Could you give an example of a transversal project?

DH: A few years ago, a project was a collaboration between our biomedical engineering students and our mechanical engineering technology students. If someone is injured in a remote location, you want to put them in touch with a doctor as soon as possible. The students built an unmanned aerial vehicle that wears an instrumented glove. It flies to the injured person, drops the glove, the patient puts the glove on, it starts taking vital signs, then it transmits the vital signs to the drone. The drone has a much larger battery, which means it has a much stronger antenna that can broadcast the data to a hospital, so the hospital can get real-time information about the person in the room. the woods and can begin to manage the medical care the individual receives.

With the new building, this collaboration will be so much easier because we have an electronics suite, the facilities to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles and our biomedical workshop. All of this combines to allow these great practical projects to cross disciplinary boundaries.

MB: How does this ability to collaborate translate to the workforce?

DH: In the workforce, you have multidisciplinary teams working on big projects. A different example: in Maine, we have many strong companies working in the field of electrical distribution. It is a multidisciplinary problem. You need electrical engineers, civil engineers, mechanical engineers. This is what our students will experience in the real world. The building allows us to do that here. We’ve done it in the past, but now it’s on steroids.

MB: Do you anticipate that this ability will allow students to jump into productive careers more quickly?

DH: Absolutely. And it is necessary today. Due to the shortage of engineers in the workplace, our graduates need to get up to speed much faster. When I entered the job market, the first projects I worked on were pretty darn simple. This is not the case for our graduates now. They must be ready to be multidisciplinary team players from the start. We changed our education to give them that experience.

MB: Will the new center be useful for recruitment?

DH: I think it will recruit both teachers and students. Today is the first day that we give classes in the building. It is very rewarding. Students come in and out continuously. Incoming students enter the building and proceed to this beautiful on-campus STEM Welcome and Outreach Center. They look to their left through the glass in the designer suite. They walk down the hallway of this beautiful bright building. It will be a magnet, not just for engineering students, but for students of all disciplines, both in Maine and out of state.

MB: How many engineers does Maine need?

DH: In a typical year, there are 2,000 engineering job openings in Maine. It’s been pretty consistent, even throughout the pandemic. We just don’t have enough. We live in an increasingly technologically advanced world that needs engineers.

We are also in a period where people my age are leaving the labor market, at the same time as the demand for engineers increases. We need replacement engineers and we need engineers for new positions.

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