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UVU: UVU is addressing the need for more engineers and computer scientists

By Margaret Chamberlain - Special to the Daily Herald | Nov 26, 2022

August Miller, UVU Marketing

UVU Students participate in the Engineering Technology Fair in the Computer Science building on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem on April 13, 2016.

According to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, there were 238,400 full- and part-time engineering and computer science jobs in Utah in 2020, creating $19.1 billion in earnings,  representing approximately 15% of Utah’s $200 billion economy.

With the growth in this workforce sector, the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) is trying to keep pace with the state’s thirst for more engineers and computer scientists. For example, engineering and computer science graduates from all Utah colleges combined went from 1,540 in 2000 to 3,700 in 2020. Despite these positive graduation results, Utah has 3,000 to 4,000 engineering job openings annually. 

A driving factor in the ever-increasing need is the rapid growth of companies and start-ups in Silicon Slopes, primarily located in Utah County. Keeping pace with that growth has been difficult. The talent shortage has forced some companies, like Qualtrics, to add offices elsewhere or leave the state altogether.  

Leaders at Utah Valley University (UVU) are working diligently to increase the number of engineering and computer science graduates. “We are hiring several new faculty members in the coming year in mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering, and we are really going to focus on where UVU can add value to this engineering discipline as a whole,” said Kelly Flanagan, dean of the Scott M. Smith College of Engineering and Technology at UVU. “We can train engineers who are very applied, very ready to go to work, ready to do real-world sort of things, and do it in a way that really meets the needs of our regional industry partners.”

In 2021, Qualtrics co-founder Scott M. Smith and his wife Karen gifted $25 million for a new engineering building and enhanced programming at UVU. The Smiths’ gift jump-started a private campaign to raise $40 million required to start construction on a 180,000-square-foot, five-story building, which will be named the Scott M. Smith Engineering and Technology Building. UVU will seek the bulk of funding from the state legislature, but the early confidence and commitment from industry leaders like Scott Smith underline this project’s significance for Utah’s tech economy.

Jay Drowns, UVU Marketing

The mechatronics engineering technology program on the Utah Valley University campus in Orem on Jan. 9, 2017.

By constructing a new building on its Orem campus, UVU will create more space for in-demand programs such as computer systems, software development, and web development. “It will have spaces for flying drones and drone research, smart grid electrical projects, and lots of other things,” Flanagan said. 

Currently, the College of Engineering and Technology spreads across several buildings, including the Gunther Technology Building and the Computer Science Building, which were built more than 20 years ago. After two decades and significant student population and program growth, the college’s needs have far exceeded the capacities of the buildings. 

Faculty and administration have invested considerable time into ensuring the Smith Building is the right fit for the university and the students. “That is going to be the hallmark of our building — an engineering and technology building built for students, and that will be a really fun thing to enjoy,” Flanagan said.

According to Flanagan, the Smith Building will be equipped with smart sensors to monitor structural loading, heat gain and loss, and vital internal and external environmental factors. It will use virtual and augmented reality to educate students and visitors about cybersecurity, structural design, building heating and cooling needs, human thermal comfort, indoor and outdoor air quality, water and energy consumption and waste, and sustainability. Temporal data will be collected and used as part of an AI system to make the building more responsive to environmental factors and efficiency needs. Lessons learned through AI will teach students how to design more efficient buildings in the future. 

In addition, the Smith Building will be a popular gathering place, with a restaurant and other amenities. “We are really excited to include a restaurant on the top floor that will likely be run by UVU’s Culinary Arts program and open several days a week for lunch and dinner,” Flanagan said. “It will also be open before performances at The Noorda Center for the Performing Arts. We hope it has that sort of flavor to it.”

Maria Corona, UVU Marketing

The Electrical Automation & Robotics Technology DVD case and SMC machine at Utah Valley University in Orem on Feb. 26, 2013.

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