THECB officially approves civil engineering program at UTPA
Posted: 08/24/2010
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It's official.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has fully approved the civil engineering program for The University of Texas-Pan American's new College of Engineering and Computer Science.

UTPA received approval from the THECB to offer the program in May 2009 on the condition it hired three full-time faculty members for civil engineering classes.

The University employed the needed faculty by late June this year, said Dr. Edwin LeMaster, the outgoing dean of the College of Science and Engineering. (The College of Science and Engineering split into two separate colleges this fall: the College of Engineering and Computer Science, in which the civil engineering program will be housed, and the College of Science and Mathematics. LeMaster is retiring as dean effective Aug. 31 after 40 years of service to UTPA.)

The University received its full approval from the THECB this month, LeMaster said.

"It is a significant step forward in promoting regional economic development through the civil engineering graduates who will take many leadership positions overseeing regional development of transportation systems and highways, water treatment plants, solid waste recycling and disposal and regional construction," LeMaster said. " Our students will be able to contribute their talents and efforts to developing the Rio Grande Valley to enhance the quality of life in the region."

The civil engineering program has been long awaited. It has taken the University about seven years to establish the program, LeMaster said.

"We started with the process of establishing that there was a demand in the professional community for civil engineers in 2003 with a survey done by Dr. Robert Jones, professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr. Arturo Fuentes, associate professor of mechanical engineering," LeMaster said. "The approval process in the University was delayed and in the summer of 2007 an updated questionnaire was submitted to civil engineering firms again to establish the demand. In almost every case there was an unfilled position in the firms surveyed for a civil engineer."

LeMaster also credits the late Dr. Hashim Mahdi, who was chair of the mechanical engineering department until his death in 2009, with pushing forward the efforts of establishing the civil engineering program.

The University also hired a consultant to help determine what equipment was needed to offer the necessary laboratory classes for the program. Through that, it was determined the college needed two new laboratories and office space, which they built in the Academic Services Building because there is no more room in the Engineering Building, LeMaster said.

Having the civil engineering program at UTPA will allow the institution to better serve the community because there is much need for more infrastructure in the Rio Grande Valley.

"Our communities have many problems with drainage, irrigation systems, and water treatment," LeMaster said. "The flooding of the colonias in the region is a familiar occurrence and civil engineers are well equipped to find good solutions to those problems. Our population is growing at about 4 percent per year in the region and our civil engineering graduates can be a significant part of the development of the infrastructure to support the population growth."

There are currently about 100 students enrolled in the civil engineering program, said Dr. Blair McDonald, the program's director.

"With the growth of the Valley, those opportunities for our graduates to stay in the Valley are there," McDonald said in an earlier interview. "There will continue to be these kinds of jobs and the demand for engineers in the next 20 years."

For more information about the civil engineering program, call (956) 665-3038.