Oct 27, 2009

Expansion begins for School of Engineering

by Melinda Zosh

Junior Ben Slaughter, a software Engineering and Intel major, will not be around to see the erection of new buildings for engineering majors, but he is anticipating the completion. He knows the importance of this expansion for future and current students.

The first phase will be completed fall 2010 and the next phase fall 2011. The expansion includes a building for welding science, a main engineering complex for 2,000 students, dorms specifically for engineering majors and a civil engineering building, according to Dean of the School of Engineering and Computational Sciences (SECS) Ron Sones,

Slaughter’s schedule consists of linear algebra, data structures and algorithms, and statistics. When he is not in class, he is working in the SECS on the third floor of DeMoss. He is usually there from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day.

“When I graduate, I’m guaranteed a very high paying job doing geo-spatial intelligence research,” Slaughter said.

He is guaranteed a $90,000 per year job at Lockheed-Martin, an international global security company which reported sales of $42.7 billion in 2008, according to its Web site.

Slaughter interned at Lockheed-Martin in Herndon, Va., last summer. He has already received a top secret government clearance, which is crucial for engineering majors seeking immediate employment in the Intel community after college, according to Manager of Technology and Research Labs at the School of Engineering Scott Pleasants. He added that a security clearance can increase an employee’s salary by $10,000 or more.

The SECS offers two collaborative intel/engineering degrees in collaboration with the Helms School of Government (HSOG).

One of the goals of the engineering department is to create well-rounded students who know how to use different forms of technology. The engineering students in this program take a series of government classes centered on the intelligence community, according to Pleasants.

“We have always been a patriotic school, and this is our way of giving back to our country,” Pleasants said.

This major is for engineering students seeking to work for the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, NSA, CIA, FBI and other government organizations. One of the new buildings will house a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for classified research. This area will be used to expand abilities for conducting classified research in the school of engineering’s complex.

“This will be really important to what we’re doing and what most of our engineering programs are centered around,” Pleasants said.
“Of the top 10 highest paying jobs for college majors today, SECS offers seven out of the 10,” Pleasants said. “Our board of advisers guide and support our programs. This executive board has helped sponsor our robotics competition, donated the equipment and provided funding for facilities and research.”

The phased expansion of the school will extend research capabilities for faculty and students. Chancellor Falwell has committed to building the welding engineering research facility by fall 2010. This will be only the third such program in the nation, according to Sones.

“Materials joining engineering, or welding engineering, encompasses the principles of materials, mechanical, structural and electrical engineering, adapting them to the development and application of joining technology,” Pleasants said.

The new 115,000 square-foot facility would give students and faculty more room to study and research. The second building of the engineering campus will allow the addition of mechanical and aerospace engineering. It will also provide for the launch of graduate programs in engineering.

“I think it’s great to have so much more space that we can utilize,” Slaughter said. “We’ll be able to do the things we need to further our education. If you’re involved with engineering, it’s because you want to make things better.”

Pleasants said the new facilities will not only include more space but also more opportunities to research specific areas of engineering. The welding complex will include a classroom, a CAD/PC Lab, MIG and TIG welding stations, hybrid laser research, a possible plasma-cutting room and a friction stir welding area.

“We want Liberty’s school of engineering to be known not just for the high caliber of research which we anticipate we are going to have, not just for the high caliber of academics,” Sones said. “We want Liberty’s school of engineering to be known for being able to design things that improve homeland security, that strengthen the nation and most especially bring glory and praise to the kingdom of God.”

In the end, Sones said God is the reason for the school’s successes.

“We’re not in competition with Baylor, Virginia Tech or other schools,” Sones said. “We are following the path that the Lord has given us. And so far the Lord has blessed us richly.”

Mark Shaneck, assistant professor of computer science, is currently working on a research project related to computer security. He hopes to see more engineering students participating in related projects.

“Hopefully at some point we’ll get a graduate school (for engineering),” Shaneck said. “Having a grad school adds to the number of students who can participate in research projects.”

Slaughter would like to see the school do more research projects related to wireless technologies.

“I’d like to see tracking devices, such as transmitters, as small as a piece of tape that you can use to follow your belongings by attaching the transmitter onto the items and following the items on a computer,” Slaughter said.

Pleasants visited both LeTourneau University and Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas last summer, and he hopes that Liberty will implement a few ideas for its new engineering facilities.

“At SMU, researchers took a CT scan and an x-ray and were able to fabricate a hip for a patient at Baylor,” Pleasants said. “It was pretty amazing to see how this was accomplished.”

But this facility is not the only thing that sets Liberty’s engineering school apart from others.

“We are distinctly Christian,” Pleasants said. “We have the some of the most godly men and women, who could be anywhere else in the world, but they’re here, and they’re training engineers who are champions for Christ.”

Pleasants said that central Virginia is a “very engineering-centric area” and hopes the expansion of the school of engineering will attract companies to the Lynchburg area, which would expand local employment opportunities. Before employment, students must get through their course work.

Just like a soldier in basic training, students must build upon their knowledge before moving on to the next level, according to Pleasants.

“You have to have a good imagination to see down the road, and to see something that hasn’t been created before,” Pleasants said.
Slaughter said students who will be learning in the new buildings should maintain vision and work hard to get through the program.

“It’s a tough program, and it takes a lot of (effort), but it’s worth it in the end,” Slaughter said. “The pay is awesome. It just takes a lot of work to get there.”

The new facilities will be most helpful to the administration, the faculty and the students who have worked hard to get to this point, Slaughter said.

“The new engineering school will put Liberty more on the map with all the big companies that are donating to the school,” Slaughter said. “Students will have more opportunities to get jobs when they graduate as opposed to a lot of other majors on the campus.”

Contact Melinda Zosh at mzosh@liberty.edu.


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