A final and affirming “A”

Four years ago, 45 freshmen gambled on a brand new engineering program at JMU. In a state with some of the best colleges and universities in the country, including some top engineering schools, their choice was not without risk. What if the program didn’t succeed the way the planners hoped? What if they got to commencement with degrees in hand and major regrets? What if the graduates couldn’t find jobs?

No one could guarantee their success or that of the new school. For these 37 men and eight women, it took courage as Keith Holland (’00), assistant professor of engineering, told the graduates on Saturday. Still, these pioneers staked their college educations on JMU’s bold, untraditional and untried engineering program that focused on sustainable systems.

Any new program has growing pains. But as I talked to members of the first engineering class this year, they repeatedly expressed one overarching sentiment. I heard it again this weekend as Interim Director Bob Kolvoord reviewed the years leading up to Saturday’s inaugural graduation.

For the past four years, students, faculty and administrators have worked together, each learning from the other in an extraordinary partnership. It has never been about a faculty so sure of their way that the input and opinions of the students didn’t carry weight. In fact, it was the opposite. It has been a collaboration like none other. Again and again, I heard from students that the faculty listened — really listened. But even more importantly, they heard students. In doing so, the faculty made these 45 students not only partakers of the new program but participants in creating JMU engineering.

The experience for these students, though, is far more than programmatic; the collegiality they found at JMU ran deep through the students’ educations. As Kolvoord addressed the graduates decked out in purple caps and gowns with orange stoles and tassels, it was clear that this class has a special camaraderie. The 13 faculty members, six staff members and 45 students each filled critical roles in JMU engineering — all bent on creating a successful program and successful students. As more than a few students said, “every one of the faculty knows our names.”

When I first heard about JMU engineering, I remembered the naysayers who said the new College of Integrated Science and Technology wouldn’t fly. Who would hire these graduates?  Back then there was plenty of skepticism. Two decades later, however, those questions have been answered with success. ISAT has proved its mettle.

Now the JMU School of Engineering is following the same pioneering path — and the first statistics are impressive. Of the 45 graduates who earned their degrees on Saturday, 24  have accepted full-time engineering jobs. Another 12 have been accepted into graduate schools, both master’s and Ph.D. programs, at universities including Cornell, Villanova, George Mason, South Florida, Arizona State, Delaware, Penn State, Carnegie-Mellon, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Another seven have received job offers or graduate school spots but are still deciding where they’ll go. That’s 43 out of 45 graduates.

On a grading scale, that’s a 95.5 — a final and affirming “A” for the Class of 2012, the students who gambled on JMU engineering and won.

Last Friday night, when the first class gathered one last time before commencement, the students presented the faculty with a plaque bearing all their names — the first class of graduates of James Madison University’s School of Engineering. It was a fitting gift because they are not only pioneers, these students and their professors are also founders.

To learn much more about JMU’s School of Engineering, visit the engineering site with an archive of stories about the 2012 graduates of JMU engineering. You’ll find it at http://www.jmu.edu/engineering/index.html


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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