Antelope Valley is a burgeoning distant suburb of Los Angeles that is demanding new services from colleges and universities. This study investigated industry and community needs for engineering curriculum in order to inform the state university's planning and decision-making.
The study employed mixed methods as part of an action-research approach by the newly state-appointed Director of Engineering Programs in three consecutive phases, January through June 2008. Phase I included mailed surveys to 156 active engineering-related organizations; Phase II assessed selected senior personnel's perceptions through long, semi-structured interviews; Phase III integrated an analysis of the state university's local learning center plan, meeting minutes of the business advisory board, and researcher's field notes for June 2007-June 2008.
Major findings from the survey, with 51 organizations responding, revealed that the area would annually require 200-300 newly graduated engineers and substantiated the area's demand for a state university center. Uniformly, the organizations have expressed a preference to hire locally-educated personnel as they would be a better retention investment; new hires from other areas remain only two-three years. The three most prominent majors are mechanical, electrical, and aerospace engineering.
From the 13 interviews, in order to sustain university life, specialty courses and certificate programs, such as composite materials and reliability and maintainability, should be developed. Interviews recommended construction management as an emerging major. Respondents expressed that the desired quality of engineering graduates, in rank order, was communication, teamwork, and presentation skills. Interviews and the advisory board support the development of engineering management graduate program and systems engineering as viable new programs.
Every organization, from the surveys and interviews, will support student internships and other work-experience opportunities for engineering students. The advisory board will financially assist the hiring of a full time faculty member and encourage skilled personnel to serve in adjunct faculty positions. Board members stated that the state university hiring a respected engineering doctorate as local representative to direct the engineering programs was essential to university expansion into this area.
Direct targeted contact was the most effective means to market engineering programs. The personnel contacted throughout this study are key to this marketing strategy.