Engineering Is No. 1 Major at YSU’s STEM College

Audrey Shemunovich has always loved mathematics, so engineering seemed to be a logical career choice two years ago when she entered Youngstown State University. But to Shemunovich, engineering isn’t about building huge structures or designing complex industrial machines.

Instead, the YSU junior wants to pursue chemical engineering and apply her talents to biomedicine and one day make a difference in cancer research. “I personally wanted to work with materials and medicines to help people,” she says. “That was my drive.”

While engineering is often associated with the design and construction of intricate machines or components, the discipline encompasses a wide range of fields and professions. Everything from the construction of giant bridges to your belt buckle relies on some form of engineering if it’s to work.

At YSU, engineering is the largest – and fastest-growing – major in its College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM. The college has six engineering departments: civil/environmental and chemical engineering; electrical and computer engineering; industrial and systems engineering; mechanical engineering; and engineering technology. And, last spring, YSU conferred its first doctorate in materials science and engineering.

“Our enrollment is up 220 students,” says Wim Steelant, dean of the STEM College. “We’ve breached 3,400 students in STEM and the fastest-growing is in engineering, especially in mechanical, civil and engineering technology.”

Steelant, who became dean six months ago, says he was drawn to YSU because of the exceptional research and work the faculty is pursuing in additive manufacturing as well as the high retention and placement rates students and graduates have achieved. “Placement rates are important. That’s what attracted me to YSU,” he says. The retention rate is about 50%, he reports, much higher than the average of 25% at similar colleges.

Among the biggest drivers to YSU’s engineering programs is the integration of additive manufacturing processes into all of its engineering disciplines, Steelant says. “Additive manufacturing is not just interdisciplinary. It’s the future,” he says.

One additive manufacturing project, he emphasizes, could encompass elements of mechanical, computer, electrical, even chemical engineering. For example, faculty and students are conducting research toward developing new tread patterns for NASA’s Mars Rover project, which would require someone with a chemical engineering background as well as mechanical and electrical, he notes. “These kind of projects absorbs all of the departments,” Steelant says.

The growth of additive manufacturing led YSU to hire Eric MacDonald as the university’s inaugural Friedman Chair in Engineering. Part of his work is devoted to 3-D printing components embedded in electronic circuitry.

And, YSU’s efforts in additive manufacturing have opened new opportunities for grant monies, the latest of which is a $4-million award from America Makes to conduct research on how to employ 3-D printing to upgrade components on C-130 aircraft at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township. The $4-million grant was the largest ever awarded to the university.

Steelant‘s goal, he says, is to develop more relationships with companies that can offer YSU students co-op and internship opportunities. “We want them to apply the theory to the practice in the real world,” he says. That’s why the dean emphasizes feedback from his advisory board, which is made up of representatives of private companies. These advisers keep the college apprised of what business is looking for in an engineer, and Steelant says he wants to ensure that YSU students provide it to the private sector.

“You’ve got to be good at math,” Steelant says. “If you’re not, you’re in the wrong field.” However, he emphasizes, a minor in business administration is an excellent background for STEM engineering graduates as they move into the real world.

That was the purpose behind YSU’s LaunchLab, housed in the university Williamson College of Business Administration. The lab is intended to merge engineering, art and other creative disciplines with entrepreneurship and business through the use of additive manufacturing.

The curriculum for students enrolled in the engineering programs is demanding. Shemunovich, the junior in chemical engineering, says she is taking 19 credit hours this semester. Among her courses are thermodynamics, differential equations, transport phenomena and organic chemistry. “I’m working with a lot of different materials,” she says, “and it really prepares you.”

This summer, Shemunovich plans to study at South Dakota State University, where she will pursue research in cellular biology and cancer treatments. “I’m excited,” she says.

Most important, the future looks very bright for those who graduate from one of the engineering programs at YSU. “We have 70 companies coming to the Job Expo day to recruit our kids,” Steelant says.

It’s all about developing what the marketplace has termed the “blue-collar” engineer, a professional who possesses both the theoretical and the hands-on skills that manufacturers and companies require, says Jalal Jalali, chairman of the electrical and computer engineering department.

“It’s a term that praises students and graduates,” Jalali says. “Not only can they use their brain to design products and create new technology, they can use their hands to put it together. That’s the reason our graduates are so successful in industry.”

Over the past three years, Jalali reports, the job placement rate of YSU’s electrical and computer engineering department is 100%. “Any student who graduated from our program has a job,” he remarks, many of them hired well before they earned their baccalaureate. “A lot of them got a job anywhere from nine months to two months before they graduated.”

Demand for electrical and computer engineers is soaring, Jalali says, which has led to an increase in enrollment in his department. In the fall of 2010, only 53 students were enrolled in the electrical and computer engineering program. Today, that number is 130.

The graduate program has seen its enrollment grow to 28 from 19 during the same period. The retention rate in Jalali’s department is also impressive: roughly 90% of those who begin their electrical and computer engineering degree finish.

Along with high demand is the high pay and opportunity for young people who graduate from the program, Jalali says. “The pay is significant,” he says. “On average, a starting salary ranges from $60,000 to $89,000.”

One student, he says, spent last summer working a co-op with Amazon, which paid him a stipend of $6,000 per month, Jalali says. “Amazon gave him an offer and he’ll graduate in May, move to Seattle, and start at more than $110,000 a year with a bachelor’s degree.”

Most graduates find good jobs in the northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, Jalali says.

“They become managers, presidents and CEOs of companies,” he says. “A lot of kids who graduate from top-10 universities are more theoretical. Our students expand and grow after they graduate.”

Pictured: YSU STEM College Dean Wim Steelant and student Audrey Shemunovich.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.