Dr. Louis Martin-Vega
Dean, NC State University College of Engineering
RALEIGH – NC State University puts learning into practice to tackle 21st century challenges – decaying infrastructure and critical workforce needs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations are just two.
Historical achievements and future projections both indicate that the university’s College of Engineering is well suited to help the state – and the world – solve seemingly intransigent problems.
In an increasingly global information-based economy, the demand for STEM workers has never been higher. According to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center, employment in STEM occupations has grown 79 percent since 1990, from 9.7 million to 17.3 million, well outpacing overall U.S. job growth.
For the last five years, Raleigh has ranked among the top 10 best-performing cities in the nation by the Milken Institute, citing the city’s strong job and wage growth, and leadership in university research, industry partnerships and workforce development. The region’s talent pool is consistently benchmarked as one of the most competitive in the U.S., with 47.2 percent of the population over age 25 holding a bachelor’s or higher, compared to Boston at 46.9 percent and Austin at 42.8 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
This future-ready workforce flows from the Research Triangle region’s 10 four-year institutions, including three tier-one research universities. Of the 44,000 highly educated students graduating each year, more than half (53 percent) remain in the region to access the competitive job market, based on 2018 data from LinkedIn Alumni Career Insights.
As North Carolina’s flagship engineering college, NC State produces more than 2,500 engineers and computer scientists each year, ranking us in the top 15 nationally in the number of bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees awarded annually in the U.S. In the latest graduate school rankings from U.S. News & World Report, NC State is recognized as the 24th best engineering school nationwide and 12th among all public institutions.
But, it’s the innovative partnerships between academia, industry and government that set us apart from our larger peers. According to American Society for Engineering Education data, research expenditures in 2016-17 placed NC State among the top 10 colleges of engineering in the country. Those expenditures, from funding chiefly provided by private industry and the federal government, contribute significantly to the state and local economy.
Brandi Boozer Shaw, a 2014 chemical engineering graduate, is using her NC State education as a quality engineer in the automotive division of McMurray Fabrics, Inc. in Aberdeen, N.C. During her time on campus, Shaw was able to conduct undergraduate research on sequential folding of 2D polymers into 3D structures.
The ability to solve complex problems and work in teams that she learned as an engineering student has transferred well to her professional life. “NC State teaches you to think and build from there,” she tells me.
Collaboration between universities extends our knowledge and impact. By harnessing NC State’s engineering expertise combined with UNC-Chapel Hill’s strength in medicine, our two universities now offer a leading program in biomedical engineering. Integrating engineering and medicine to improve human health, students graduating from the program receive a degree from both universities.
In the past decade, NC State engineering undergraduate enrollment has grown by 22 percent, and graduate enrollment has more than doubled. To meet this demand, last year the university broke ground on a 225,000-square-foot engineering innovation hub, Fitts-Woolard Hall, on Centennial Campus. Completion of the facility is expected in 2020.
NC State’s Centennial Campus is a proving ground for the university’s public-private partnerships, home to more than 75 corporate, government and nonprofit partners who work alongside many of our academic departments and units. These collaborations support real-world learning while creating new ideas, products and jobs across North Carolina and beyond.
For example, global technology company Infosys opened its North Carolina Technology and Innovation Hub in 2018, with plans to hire 2,000 American workers by 2021 — the largest ever economic development project to announce in Wake County. NC State and Infosys recently entered into a collaboration on Centennial Campus in which faculty members will provide training for at least 150 new Infosys employees in foundational data science skills such as statistics, data visualization and machine learning.
As a research-extensive land-grant institution, for 132 years NC State has been committed to providing its students with the tools they need for their professional success while supporting the state’s future growth. We are confident that NC State engineers and computer scientists will continue to play a significant role in solving the grand challenges facing our region, state and world well into the 21st century and beyond.
Dr. Louis Martin-Vega is dean of the College of Engineering at NC State University. He has held prior roles as the dean of engineering at the University of South Florida and leadership positions at the National Science Foundation.