Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

CHARTING NEW TERRITORY: Colleges, Universities Offering New Academic Programs

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

CHARTING NEW TERRITORY: Colleges, Universities Offering New Academic Programs

Article excerpt

Many college students across the country will have new opportunities open to them as several colleges and universities are offering new academic programs this fall in a hustle to remain competitive and respond to the rapidly changing marketplace.

Smith College in Northampton, Mass., South Carolina State University in Orangeburg and Xavier University in New Orleans are responding to the current high-tech boom and offering new degree programs in engineering. Smith College, particularly, is turning heads and raising eyebrows with its new engineering program because it is the first women's college in the United States to have such a program.

And after a long, controversial battle, students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will now have the opportunity to major in Black studies.

Dr. Adeniyi Coker, director of the Black Studies program, says that the next item on his agenda is to seek departmental status for the discipline, adding that the next three years will be crucial in convincing higher education officials that there is a strong demand for a Black studies major.

On the graduate level, Howard University is responding to the current shortage of urban educators and is admitting its first students to its new doctoral program in education. The historically Black university's dean of the school of education, Dr. Vinetta C. Jones, says Howard is uniquely qualified to produce leaders who will be prepared to address such critical issues facing urban school districts as closing the achievement gap, reducing dropout rates and ensuring school safety.


Women's colleges are often noted for producing "firsts." Last fall, Smith College -- the largest women's college in the country, with 2,800 students -- opened the first engineering department ever at a U.S. women's college.

Citing a national shortage of female engineers -- five out of six engineering students are male -- as well as a shortage of college facilities to educate them, Smith trustees in January 1999 approved the new $12.5 million department.

Smith College President Ruth Simmons has said, "Engineers design and build much of the human environment. Women must not accept so marginal a role in so important a field."

Prior to opening its engineering department, Smith students interested in engineering had to take classes at nearby University of Massachusetts at Amherst or Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

But no longer. Last fall, students had the opportunity to enroll in two engineering courses. As a result, one has decided to pursue a graduate degree in engineering and another has switched her major to engineering.

The chairman of Smith's engineering department is Dr. Domenico Grasso, who prior to coming to Smith headed the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Connecticut Grasso turned down an attractive offer to chair the department of earth and environmental engineering at Columbia University in New York to lead Smith's pioneering program.

"It was not an easy decision," Grasso says. "But the Smith position had so much potential associated with it What I could do here could have so much more of an impact."

Grasso is hiring faculty to staff the department. Three of the four faculty members planning to come aboard are women, which also makes the program unique because 96 percent of engineering faculty are men.

Grasso predicts that other liberal arts colleges, and not just women's colleges, will follow in Smith's footsteps by offering engineering majors. "That's just the type of society we're living in," Grasso says of our high-tech world.

Although students do not have to declare a major until their junior year, 19 students have already predesignated the engineering major. Students can focus on several areas of concentration such as environmental engineering, computer engineering and biotechnology/biomedical engineering. …

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