Engineers share a lot in common with superheros.
The latter leap tall buildings in a single bound, fight evil-doers and travel faster than a speeding bullet. The former design sustainable and safe infrastructure, combat cyber-crime and create signals that move at lightning speed.
UMW students aren’t caped crusaders, but they need to be prepared to tackle and solve complex problems plaguing our society. Starting in fall 2020, a new agreement with George Mason University will help them do that. Mary Washington undergraduates will have the opportunity to take graduate-level courses in Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering (VSE) during their senior year. Students can earn up to nine credits that will be applied to their bachelor’s degree at UMW and potentially later be used toward a master’s degree in engineering at Mason.
Keith Mellinger made it his mission to explore such a partnership when he became Dean of UMW’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2017. All combined, Mary Washington graduates close to 100 math, physics and computer science majors each year, yet Mellinger recognized the necessity for a pathway program once he began hearing one question over and over again at admissions events.
“Prospective students and parents regularly ask about engineering,” he said, acknowledging that designing a new major or program would be costly and only fulfill the needs of a small number of students. “Rather than trying to compete with other schools, we can leverage the expertise in the Commonwealth to our advantage.”
There’s no dearth of engineering programs in Virginia, but Mason’s expansive course offerings seemed the best fit for UMW students, said Mellinger, who also took into consideration the Fairfax campus’ proximity to Fredericksburg as well as VSE’s robust selection of online courses.
While still enrolled at UMW, students will have the chance to take pre-master’s courses at Mason in six areas: applied information technology, computer science, data analytics engineering, operations research, statistics and systems engineering.
“You could get your diploma, shake President Paino’s hand and leave Mary Washington with graduate coursework already under your belt,” said Mellinger, who believes this partnership opens up a world of opportunities for both current and prospective students.
The agreement puts UMW students at the front of the line for an advanced degree. They’ll also be even closer to Northern Virginia’s technology corridor, and near Amazon’s new headquarters, which already employs countless Mason engineering and computer science graduates. And VSE’s relationships with government and industry leaders – many of whom are alumni – make this pathway even more seamless.
“This groundbreaking program in which UMW’s brightest students can get an early start on a master’s degree is a win on so many levels,” said Deborah Goodings, a Mason professor and VSE’s associate dean. “Mary Washington’s high standard of undergraduate education and the enthusiasm of UMW faculty and administrators places this program on a completely different level,” she said, and “combines our institutions’ energies in research and education.”
Mellinger agrees. “As public institutions, it is our mission to address the important economic and societal needs within the Commonwealth. We have found a way to do just that with this innovative partnership with GMU.”