Invigorating Engineering Education and Innovation

Step into the UNM School of Engineering Administrator's office and you will see a number of architectural plans tacked on the wall. Walk through the Dean's Office conference room on any given Monday afternoon and you will find School of Engineering deans, faculty, and staff collaborating with a group of architects on a new facility designed to invigorate engineering education and innovation.

The new $42 million Centennial Engineering Center will house technologically advanced classrooms, modern laboratories, and a variety of meeting spaces to accommodate engineering education, cutting-edge research, and collaborations among faculty, students, and School of Engineering community partners.

The vision for the new facility goes beyond a center for education, research, and community outreach. It is also part of a strategy to accelerate American research and development and reclaim our heritage as the world's most prolific innovators. There is growing national concern that the rate of future U.S. innovation will decline. Both federal funding and corporate investment in research have been decreasing in recent years. At the same time, many foreign countries are dramatically increasing their spending on research, developing new products, and offering excellent employment packages, luring many of America's best engineering graduates abroad and causing students who might have gone to the U.S. to stay in their own countries.

The "brain drain" underscores the enormous importance of attracting and educating the next generation of engineers and computer scientists with high-quality, technologically advanced resources to prepare them to compete in the global marketplace and continue America's leadership in research and discovery. That is also the vision for the new UNM School of Engineering's Centennial Engineering Center.

According to Joseph L. Cecchi, dean of the School of Engineering, the Center will play a key role in helping researchers accelerate innovation and improve the way we live, work, and communicate. "Since 1906, when the UNM School of Engineering was founded, our alums have developed innovative solutions to complex societal problems," Cecchi says. "This new facility will enhance engineering education and give our students and faculty an ideal environment to undertake innovative research and technologies to work on issues that affect us all."

Next Generation Education

Construction is scheduled to begin July, 2006 with an estimated completion date of August 15, 2008. With a "pueblo revival" style to fit in gracefully with the rest of the buildings on campus, the Center's contemporary features include a glass atrium, a large courtyard with a fountain, two entry towers, and a set-back third floor that offers openness and light.

The new facility will provide students with more convenient access and comprehensive support to services that are currently spread out over several buildings. Wireless classrooms, Internet conferencing facilities and fully-equipped labs will provide an environment for discovery and collaboration. Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Charles B. Fleddermann explains, "The Center will have the latest technology and equipment in a space conducive to innovation." Civil Engineering will have six state-of-theart teaching and research labs in environmental engineering, microfluids, soil mechanics, structural mechanics, hydraulics and concrete testing. Numerous multidisciplinary labs will expand UNM's pioneering research in nano-materials studies, alternative energy, and bioengineering.

The building will also serve as a nucleus for the new programs offered at the UNM School of Engineering. The Construction Management graduate degree was developed to meet the demand of non-engineering construction professionals who would like to earn a master's degree. Life-enhancing research, such as non-invasive technologies for early detection of diseases, is facilitated by collaborations with the new Center for Biomedical Engineering and the UNM School of Medicine. The multidisciplinary Integrative Nanoscience and Microsystems graduate program was designed to create radical changes in the way we diagnose, treat, and ultimately, prevent cancer. Exciting new programs in 21st century aeronautical and aerospace engineering are being planned.

Building the Future

A variety of funding sources have already recognized the vital need for the new Center. In 2005, UNM student government supported increasing student fees that were then used to fund the largest portion of the new Center's costs, equaling $25 million. State appropriations over the past few years and private donors have provided additional support. Now the School is conducting a capital campaign to raise the remaining construction and equipment funds, as well as funding for student and faculty support, research, and programmatic needs.

Soon the architectural drawings will be stored away and the new facility will be fulfilling its promise of invigorating engineering education and innovation. "In the meantime, it is even more important to stay focused on our missions of teaching, research, and service within the School," says Cecchi. "I see a very bright future, and I look forward to pursuing it with the faculty, staff, students, alums, and partners of the School of Engineering."