Tuesday, January 10, 2017

More students are taking an interest in aerospace engineering than in the past, according to University enrollment rates provided by the Department of Aerospace Engineering.
Last spring marked the eighth consecutive year that University’s engineering school saw an increase in graduates. Enrollment at the school has been trending upward over the past couple of years, according to enrollment records.
Just this fall, the Department of Aerospace Engineering saw the highest freshman enrollment within the last eight years. According to the enrollment records, 74 new students have decided to study aerospace engineering this fall, compared to 51 students in 2015 — a 45 percent increase. Zhi Jian Wang, chair of the aerospace engineering department, said the increase is influenced by the strong presence of the aircraft industry in Kansas.
University administrators say the trend is due to increased recruitment efforts across the state and improved facilities.
Aerospace engineering department chairs say that one factor of the increase is the addition of LEEP 2, a brand new lab for the College of Engineering that opened in the fall of 2015. Several students visited LEEP 2 on campus visits last year, right after it opened.
“Aerospace engineering at KU is the best in the College of Engineering,” Wang said. “The reputation of our department is helping recruit students.”

Antonio Schöneich, a senior from Lawrence, said he chose aerospace engineering because of the University’s excellent program.
“KU aerospace is one of the top design schools in the nation, which is because of the products that KU aerospace gives to its students,” Schöneich said. “In other colleges, students focus a lot on the technical aspects of aerospace – KU focuses a lot on design and innovation.”
Wang said another reason that the number of students has increased could be due to efforts by the faculty to attract high school and elementary school students to the field.
Members of the College of Engineering have recently been giving presentations in schools around the Kansas City area, Wang said. They have also collaborated with Cosmosphere, located in Hutchinson, to create a video to show prospective students.
“In the state of Kansas, there is an urgent need for more aerospace engineers,” Wang said.
Wichita is home to several aerospace companies. Textron, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Spirit Aerosystems, Omni Aerospace, and many more have earned the city the nickname “Air Capital of the World.”
Wang says that students from the University’s aerospace department have gone on to work for these companies.
“Aerospace engineering is the biggest exporter in U.S. goods,” Wang said. “We definitely need to continue to make developments in aerospace engineering.”
In 2011, the state of Kansas signed The University Engineering Initiative Act (UEIA). The act’s primary goal is to increase engineering graduates in the state by 60 percent by 2021 comparing to the number of graduates in 2008.
The University has already seen a 56 percent increase in students studying engineering, with 400 students in the graduating class of 2015 compared to 255 in the graduating class of 2008. The school hopes to reach 419 for the state of Kansas by 2021.
“The goal was to see more enrolled students, more faculty and more graduates,” Wang said.
The UEIA appropriated $1 million in funding to each of the flagship schools for the state of Kansas (Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State) for the 2012 fiscal year. In 2013, that number increased to $3.5 million per school, per year, until 2023, giving the program a total of $105 million in state funding.
That funding has gone to create new facilities, such as LEEP 2. Wang said the department is also in the process of creating a water tunnel for students to study fluid dynamics, as well as upgrades to the University’s wind tunnel and proportional lab. Those are on track to be completed by this fall.
Wang said the UEIA is part of a nationwide effort to get more students involved in engineering.
“There has been a national approach to recruit more S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students at all levels,” Wang said. “For whatever reasons, top students go on to medical school and business. For engineering you need some of the brightest minds that are good in math and physics.”
Ray Taghavi, associate chair for the Department of Aerospace Engineering, said that students are getting interested because of recent NASA activity, such as work on the Orion spacecraft, which is designed to take humans to Mars in the future.