​Engineering students express concerns about potential merger

Systems Department to hold undergraduate discussion Wednesday

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Systems engineering students are worried that, if implemented, this merger could change the major’s curriculum.

Karen Chen | Cavalier Daily

The Systems and Information Engineering Department will hold its first meeting with undergraduate students about potentially merging with the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department on Wednesday.

While many systems engineering students have heard rumors about the potential merger, an email sent on April 20 was one of the first official notifications that undergraduate students have received.

Fourth-year Systems Engineering student Carl Wolf said many systems engineering students had not heard about the potential merger until recently.

“I know some people might’ve been asked behind closed doors, but from what I understand, this has mostly gone on with department meetings and things like that,” Wolf said. “I think right now, the biggest thing is we just don’t really know what’s going on.”

Brian Smith, a civil engineering professor and chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, held a forum for his department’s undergraduates earlier in the semester.

Perrin Falkner, a third-year Civil Engineering student and president of the American Society for Civil Engineers, said she did not attend the meeting but that students were able to express their opinions. However, it is unclear how much weight these opinions will hold in the merger decision.

Falkner said many civil engineering students have different opinions on the potential merger. While some do not see the benefit, others like the idea of cross-departmental work.

“I think some people are pretty unhappy with it just because some people think it’s not going to benefit either department, since we do have different fields of study,” Falkner said. “But there’s also people who think it will be good because we can benefit from learning in interdisciplinary ways.”

Jeannie Blackwood, a fourth-year Systems Engineering student and Class of 2017 representative for the Systems Undergraduate Studies Committee, said many systems engineering undergraduate students do not see the potential benefit for their degree program.

“I think it all comes down to money and research money, but undergrads don’t research,” Blackwood said. “So, they’re spinning it off like it’s going to be better for the department, but it’ll be better for grad students because they’ll have more resources for research, but it’s not going to make a better undergrad experience.”

Blackwood said she believes a potential merger would benefit the Civil Engineering department more than the Systems Engineering department. The Engineering School decided to eliminate major enrollment caps this year, allowing more first years to enroll in more popular majors.

“I think that they’re under more pressure for it to work out because for next year, I think civil [engineering] has one of the lowest enrollments,” Blackwood said. “So, they’re under a lot of pressure, whereas systems [engineering] is healthy — we had the same enrollment we’ve always had — so I think pressure is on them more to figure out something that works because they can’t have only 20 students in a class.”

As of fall 2016, the Civil Engineering department had 162 students and the Systems Engineering department had 293.

Some systems engineering students are worried that, if implemented, this merger could change the major’s curriculum. Blackwood said she worries an increasing focus on research could detract from the undergraduate experience.

“In my opinion, if you’re trying to better the undergraduate education, invest in getting good professors and getting enough professors,” Blackwood said. “Don’t invest in getting this money for research so that you can bring on people to research, because people who are the best researchers are not the best professors.”

Professors in the civil and systems engineering departments have previously told The Cavalier Daily the merger would be primarily to create a stronger research front compared to other large research institutions.

While students have not organized any formal opposition to the potential merger, Blackwood said information learned at Wednesday’s forum could lead to action.

“So far, it’s been such a closed-door decision that I don’t think anyone really even has enough information to fight back,” Blackwood said. “I think once we might hear more about it, people will get together and try to do something about it.”

The Systems Engineering discussion will be held in Olsson 011 at 3:30 p.m. this Wednesday. 

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