Academics

Quality education STEMs from Liberty’s commitment to job preparation

By Drew Menard, February 20, 2015

Across the nation, an emphasis on STEM education — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — is preparing young people to meet the rising demand in critical career fields, many of which are experiencing a shortage of competent candidates. These jobs require specialized skills, prompting governments and organizations to implement initiatives ensuring that educational institutions, from elementary schools to community colleges, universities, and specialized programs, are providing adequate training.

Virginia is no exception, with Gov. Terry McAuliffe focusing strongly on STEM in his New Virginia Economy Workforce Initiative introduced last year. Though the educational portions of this plan focus primarily on public institutions, Liberty University, as the largest college in Virginia, is perfectly poised to supply skilled STEM workers.

According to a report from the governor’s office, Virginia has the highest concentration of high-tech jobs per capita in the nation. It is estimated that by 2022, about 500,000 new jobs — many of which are in the scientific, technical, or health care fields — will be created in Virginia, and another 930,000-plus workers will be needed to replace Virginia’s retiring workforce.

Liberty, itself, has some of the most diverse program offerings of any college in the country. It is one of less than 10 institutions of higher learning nationally to provide an ABA-accredited law school, four ABET-accredited engineering and computational sciences programs, an AOA-COCA-accredited medical school (accreditation for the Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine is provisional, as it began operation last fall), and an FAA-accredited aviation program. Liberty also offers a film school and the largest nursing school in Virginia.

As a university committed to equipping Champions for Christ in every field, Liberty offers a variety of STEM programs from the certificate to master’s and doctoral levels, featuring some of the best hands-on experiential learning environments available.

One way that Liberty takes an active role in promoting STEM education is through the Barlow Scholarship, available to teacher licensure students in the School of Education studying mathematics, biology/chemistry, computer science, or teaching English as a second language. In addition, the School of Education’s STEM Education Research Initiative encourages graduate students to work with faculty members on STEM-related research.

Below is information about some of Liberty’s STEM-related programs.

SCIENCE

Biology student and professor work together at Liberty.

Students receive hands-on training in one of 20 new “wet” labs in Liberty’s new Science Hall. A portion of the building opened this semester.

Liberty’s Department of Biology & Chemistry offers 10 majors, including new biopsychology and forensic science programs introduced last semester. This well-rounded curriculum prepares students for a variety of graduate and professional schools, including medical, dental, pharmaceutical, and veterinary programs. The department also offers a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences, designed to give students a solid foundation in the sciences before going on to medical or dental school.

This semester, classes began in Liberty’s new Science Hall, a facility that more than triples the size of the former science building. Featuring four stories and 121,000 square feet, the new building houses the Department of Biology & Chemistry and the Department of Health Professions. It includes 20 biology and chemistry “wet” labs, with a cadaver lab, cell culture facility, and several research labs. State-of-the-art research equipment includes a gene sequencer, GC mass spectrometer, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.

Health care is one of the country’s fastest-growing industries, and Liberty offers several degrees designed to prepare health care professionals for local, regional, and national job markets. The School of Health Sciences offers undergraduate degrees in athletic training, kinesiology, health promotion, exercise science, and medical office assistance, as well as a Master of Public Health. Nursing is one of the top five undergraduate majors at Liberty, and Liberty’s School of Nursing is one of the most rigorous in Virginia. In addition, the newly created School of Behavioral Sciences encompasses all psychology, sociology, human services, clinical counseling, and pastoral counseling programs.

Last fall, Liberty opened its College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is now completing work on new research labs and a community health center (read more).

TECHNOLOGY

Students train on a flight simulator at the School Aeronautics.

Students train on a flight simulator at the School Aeronautics.

The governor’s report noted that 45 percent of Virginia’s job market is made up of specialized skill and technical jobs. Through Liberty’s Technical Studies program, students can learn a trade to supplement their academic degree. Students complete general education courses and degree requirements on campus while taking trade courses as electives through Virginia Technical Institute’s (VTI) state-of-the-art training facilities. Students can minor in welding, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Last fall, VTI students assisted skilled volunteer tradesmen for a Habitat for Humanity building project.

Liberty’s School of Business also recognizes the important role that technology plays in the workplace. The university partners with leading companies such as Oracle, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft to train students for certifications that will help them stand out when applying for jobs. Degree programs are offered in business management information systems (B.M.I.S.) (associate, minor, bachelor’s), health care informatics (bachelor’s), information technology (bachelor’s), and information systems (master’s, doctorate). Each of the undergraduate and graduate programs is accredited by ACBSP or seeking ACBSP accreditation.

The B.M.I.S. and information technology programs offer specializations certified by the Cisco Networking Academy and the Oracle Academy. Specializations in the information systems degrees include accounting information systems, database, data networking, global studies, and information assurance. Specializations in the undergraduate information technology programs include application and database development, data networking and security, gaming design, and web development. Master’s specializations include information assurance and information technology management. The Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.) degree offers a specialization in information systems.

The School of Business and the School of Engineering & Computational Sciences (SECS) often cross-utilize faculty, working together to offer programs that combine both business and computer technology skills.

Liberty University is unique in that not only does it have a School of Aeronautics (SOA), but it also owns an aviation company, a fixed base operator (FBO), at the Lynchburg airport. This affords students and graduates opportunities that are unparalleled in U.S. higher education.

Students in the SOA have opportunities to be on the cutting edge of aviation technology. Liberty’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) program is a pioneer in UAS education, working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Defense, and industry leaders to develop training processes and procedures while graduating highly qualified pilots for this growing field.

The SOA has partnerships with several leading aviation companies. A recent agreement with Textron Aviation Inc. and Piper Aircraft allows Liberty to offer its students top-notch, modern aircraft as well as opportunities for internships and careers. Hiring agreements with regional airlines, including ExpressJet, Sky West, Envoy, and Piedmont, guarantee jobs for qualified graduates.

In December, the School of Aeronautics became one of the first aviation programs in the country to upgrade its Cessna 172 flight simulators to Level 5 Flight Training Devices (FTDs). It subsequently received FAA certification as part of the National Simulator Program.

Liberty also has an Aviation Maintenance Technician Program that allows students to earn a maintenance license with both Airframe and Powerplant ratings in 12 months. An optional Associate of Arts degree can be completed in an additional year, and an online Bachelor of Arts degree with a Maintenance Management concentration may also be completed. Relationships with several aviation industry companies keep the graduate hiring rate near 100 percent.

ENGINEERING

After a major expansion last summer, the School of Engineering & Computational Sciences now boasts 49,000 square feet of space on the third floor of DeMoss Hall, including 2,400 square feet for lab equipment. The department has multiple labs for hands-on learning, including several designed for computer, mechanical, modeling and simulation, electrical, and nanotechnology education. Equipment includes an electron microscope, thin films printer, circuit board printers, inverted microscope, and a 3D printer with Computer Aided Drafting software.

The school offers a master’s degree in cybersecurity (read more), bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, applied Internet technologies, computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, and industrial engineering, as well as minors in computer science and information security.

All programs within SECS are either ABET-accredited or seeking ABET accreditation.

MATHEMATICS

A group at Liberty's Astronomical Observatory.

Dr. Scott Long (right), associate professor of mathematics, explains the features of the new 24-inch telescope that was added to Liberty’s Astronomical Observatory last summer.

Liberty offers a major and a minor in mathematics. Career opportunities include computer science, data processing, engineering, operations research, finance and insurance, statistics, and teaching.

An initiative of the College of General Studies, Liberty’s innovative Math Emporium has increased passage rates for students in developmental and general education mathematics courses. The emporium features 250 workstations and is staffed by faculty and trained tutors who are dedicated to seeing students succeed. Students meet for a lecture once a week and can access emporium resources an additional three hours per week (it is open 80 hours per week with daytime, evening, and weekend hours). This flexibility allows students to learn at their own pace during a time that’s most convenient for them.

The mathematics department also manages Liberty’s Astronomical Observatory, featuring a custom-built 24-inch telescope, the largest in the region. The observatory is open to students four nights a week and members of the community during select events. It is equipped with a roll-off roof that uncovers six mounts for 8-inch telescopes and a 12-inch telescope, each one electronically controlled. Two outdoor pads allow the telescopes to be repositioned for greater fields of view. There is also a 25-seat classroom with a smart board for instructors to display telescope images. The observatory is utilized for labs for 100- and 300-level astronomy courses and the student astronomy club.

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