Engineering school plans move to new facility in Bedford County
Liberty University recently decided to purchase the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research (CAER) building and its adjoining 28 acres in Bedford County, which will become the new location for the school of engineering and computational sciences.
According to David Donahoo, dean for the school of engineering and computational sciences, the school plans on moving to the facility by Fall 2019.
Currently, the school of engineering is beginning a very deliberate planning process, according to Donahoo.
Several questions, including how the commute to the new space will work, which faculty will be moved to the new space, and how the school will cooperate with the CAER that iscurrently using the space, are all being thoroughly thought out.
“Nothing is off the table to make all of this work,” Donahoo said. “The logisitcs are the devil in the details, but it’s all solvable stuff.”
Donahoo said to help with solving the logistics, the school is considering keeping freshman and sophomore students at a smaller location in DeMoss and sending junior and senior engineering students to the space in Bedford to focus more heavily on research.
In the 28-acre lot, Liberty is planning on constructing new buildings alongside the current facility that is already there.
Donahoo said students will get to receive both a thorough education and practical, real-world experience that comes from working with industry experts.
“It’s going to be a marriage of industry experience and education,” Donahoo said.
“That will enable our undergraduate students to be working side-by-side with people that are in the industry doing this sort of research.
Vice President of Special Projects Jonathan Whitt said the CAER building will further reflect Liberty’s desire to expand its current research status.
“Liberty is a research university — we have that status now,” Whitt said.
“We are doing basic level research in several areas, and we want to expand that. In order to be a major research university, that means you have a lot of business and industry partners that you’re working with.”
As the newest owner, Liberty will continue to lease space within the facility to companies with pre-existing partnerships.
Students will have the opportunity to be in close proximity to major employers and learn to interact with those in the business realm.
According to Whitt, the university seeks to move in a direction toward energy-related research and development.
“There are several companies that are there now that are doing work in the cybersecurity sector that’s related to energy,” Whitt said.
“BWX Technologies, a major employer in the area, builds nuclear propulsion systems for the Navy, and they have a $30 million test facility within that building.”
Whitt said the purchase of the building will benefit students and encourage growth in the school of engineering.
“First of all, it’s going to help the engineering school grow,” Whitt said. “We’re at 800 students now, and that can grow significantly with a new facility and new industry partner.”
Liberty sophomore Heidi Morey said she is looking forward to the transition and a larger space for their equipment used during workshops.
“I’m absolutely in love with the school of engineering, and I think the professors are very sincere and the administration is very caring and very competent,” Morey said.
“I’m very impressed with it so far. I think it will be really exciting to be so close to industry instead of just academia.”
The location of the CAER building is a 12-minute commute for students who will use the facility. According to Whitt, the university’s campus is not set up in a way that is ideal to bring outside companies in.
“It would be really hard with the way the campus is constructed here to bring companies onto our campus, so we need to think about how can we go places where companies can find us or locate around us, and we can begin to build out that research campus environment,” Whitt said.
It is unclear how Liberty will accommodate the commute at this time, but Whitt said he is confident that busses will be provided and the university will work accordingly with students.
“I’m not exactly sure how the transportation logistics will play out,” Whitt said.
“Liberty already has students that commute to the medical school and over to the Lynchburg Airport, and so in the same vein, we’re only talking about seven more minutes past the airport, so it’s not really as far away as it sounds.”
Whitt said the purchase of the CAER building is going to be positive, and he is excited for the students to interact with employers.
“Regardless of what you’re studying at Liberty, you will probably be more excited studying it if you’re actually engaging with employers in your field and for the school of engineering, it’s going to do that,” Whitt said.