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A Hands-On Engineering Degree

Photo courtesy of Chris O'Riordan-Adjah

Students view an exhibit on a field trip at Boeing-St. Louis headquarters

In fall 2015, Principia launched an on-campus, dual-degree engineering program. Students take general education and introductory engineering courses from Principia professors as well as distance-learning courses taught by University of North Dakota (UND) engineering faculty. Those completing the five-year program earn two degrees: a BS in engineering science from Principia and an ABET-certified* BS in civil, chemical, electrical, mechanical, or petroleum engineering from UND. (Students are eligible for scholarships and financial aid for the full five-year engineering program.)

The distance-learning courses are proctored by Principia professors so that students can ask questions. In a recent Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering class, for example, a question about a voltage equation arose, so the professor paused the lecture while students took turns at the whiteboard graphing equations to solidify the concepts.

Principia’s small classes are key to this approach. “But underlying all of this is that at Principia we teach from the standpoint that each student is the manifestation of divine Mind and fully capable,” says Dr. Clint Staley, who joined Principia’s faculty this fall after teaching at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for nearly 30 years. “Sure, the small classes are wonderful—at Cal Poly I averaged 35 students per class, and here in a class of seven I can provide immediate feedback and ideas. But the real difference is the common bond of Christian Science, and you won’t find that anywhere else.”

Another popular—and very useful—aspect of studying engineering at Principia is the ready access to hands-on learning opportunities. Here are just a few examples from specific courses:

  • Introduction to the Engineering Profession: Students build a bridge model (after developing the concept design on AutoCAD software and fabricating materials in the machine shop) and then test the model’s strength and capacity.
  • Dynamics: Students construct a walking dinosaur or similar mobile object.
  • Engineering Seminar: Students build an underwater autonomous vehicle and then test it in the swimming pool.

Students also have opportunities to interact with engineering professionals on field trips—to Boeing’s aerospace center or the General Motors assembly plant, for example—and with speakers from a variety of engineering fields who visit campus.

What Students Say

Junior Kevin Ward, who spent his first three college semesters studying mechanical engineering at Purdue University, finds in Principia’s program the academic rigor he was seeking—but with closer faculty engagement. “I’m very happy I transferred to Principia,” he says. “My professors really know me here, and I find the distance-learning works extremely well.” Sophomore Namrata Roy, who is also focusing on mechanical engineering, agrees. “We learn the material to understand it, not just memorize it,” she says. “The faculty really care, and we take the time in class to master the content before we move on.”

Students are also putting what they’re learning into practice in campus clubs and activities, especially the solar car team. For example, sophomore Austin Webster and junior Nicole Gerber are applying their engineering course material to the design and construction of Ra X, Principia’s next solar car. That’s also true of freshman Ava Lesko, who considered engineering programs at large universities but ultimately chose Principia. “The opportunity to jump right into the solar car project and learn exponentially in a hands-on setting is something I wouldn’t do until at least junior year at most universities,” she says. “It’s truly wonderful to have this opportunity here as a freshman—and recently I trained to be a driver!”

These future engineers are engaged in many non-engineering-related activities as well. Among the seven students in Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering, participation spans the award-winning mediation team, tennis, cross country, and soccer teams, serving as a resident assistant, helping to plan the Public Affairs Conference, and being on house board.

“Principia’s concept of educating the whole man doesn’t get any better than this,” says Chris O’Riordan-Adjah, Director of the Engineering Program. “Our key objective and goal is to strive for perfection and develop the best engineers. Our small size, individual advising, access to faculty, loving encouragement, campus involvement, and the spiritual freedom expressed here reach students on all levels—academically, physically, and spiritually.”

Learn more about Principia’s Engineering Program

*ABET Inc. is the recognized accreditor for engineering programs, certifying that they meet the profession’s quality standards.