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NIU partners with Omron to introduce first PhD programs in engineering

The College of Engineering and Engineering Technology at Northern Illinois University (NIU) will begin offering its first doctoral programs with three PhD degrees in electrical, mechanical, and industrial and systems engineering.

The new programs, which will take advantage of online and on-campus learning, were approved Tuesday, September 10 by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE).

NIU executive vice president and provost Beth Ingram says the degrees keep NIU relevant in the rapidly expanding field of engineering.

Ingram says: “Our College of Engineering and Engineering Technology is known for its forward-thinking approach to engineering education, and this is yet another example of innovation in program delivery.

“I’m delighted that the IBHE recognized the importance of these programs to our region and state, and look forward to the first graduating classes.”

The new degrees follow the college’s two recently added multidisciplinary undergraduate programs in the emerging fields of biomedical engineering and mechatronics engineering.

CEET Dean Donald Peterson, said the doctoral-level offerings reflect a need to stay in step with hiring demand and help students compete in the workforce.

Peterson explained that the knowledge and skill sets gained through bachelors and masters engineering degree programs may not effectively respond to the marketplace given the increasing demands for competitive engineering practices geared towards rapid technological innovation and globalization.

Peterson says: “Current PhD engineering education, especially in the US, is designed to produce faculty but data collected by the American Society of Engineering Educators indicate that 70 percent of PhD engineering graduates in the US have the desire to work in industry rather than academia.

“Our PhD programs will look to meet the need for career paths to industry and are structured to produce industry leaders and technology innovators, especially in Illinois where highly skilled engineers of all disciplines are in high demand.”

At the core of the new doctoral programs is an innovative and unique feature, the Industrial Fellows Program (IFP).

The program will partner students with global companies to do their dissertation work on the job and ensure them employment upon graduation.

Peterson says the hands-on approach is an underlying theme for CEET at all levels. “There is nothing like the IFP in the region and the nation.

“We expect it to ultimately serve as a national model within contemporary doctorate engineering education.”

The IFP’s inception is notable, as well, for its unprecedented collaboration between higher education and industry. The college enlisted the input of a dozen different global companies.

This focus group, hosted by electronics company Omron Corporation, whose national headquarters are in Hoffman Estates, helped direct the formation of the IFP program by identifying future labor and engineering needs.

Nigel Blakeway, managing executive officer, chair and CEO for Omron Management Center of America, says: “As education is a major focus throughout all of Omron, we eagerly look forward to strengthening our association within the synergistic educational and workforce development efforts that these degree programs represent.

“We strongly endorse the new PhD degrees and Industrial Fellows Program, both as a participant and as an industry interested in workforce development, growth, and sustainability.”

NIU is just 65 miles from Chicago, a major intermodal transportation hub encompassing interstates, railroads, airports, and waterways.

More than 6,000 companies, 300 distribution centers, 150 hospitals, two airports, and two railway yards are located within a 100-mile radius, creating an urgent demand for engineers.

The Illinois Department of Commerce has identified transportation distribution and logistics as an industry targeted for growth – making electrical, mechanical, and industrial and systems engineers some of the most sought-after professionals.

Mansour Tahernazadi, senior associate dean of research and graduate programs for CEET, says: “The newly approved PhD programs are designed to draw upon faculty and industry expertise, as well as curricular content within the college and university, to advance deeper innovative solutions in close partnerships with industry.”