Engineering school wants to expand facility

Similar to the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ need for expansion, officials at the Florida A&M University and Florida State University College of Engineering are also struggling for space.

This problem has created limited lab space and research and study areas.

Steve Williams, a FAMU junior, said he has to get creative with his schedule because most engineering classes are not offered every semester. The lack of some offered prerequisites for higher courses can prolong some students’ graduation, he said.

“We just don’t have enough teachers,” said Williams, 21, a chemical engineering student from Pensacola. “And there is a shortage of classes.”

Dean of Engineering Ching-Jen Chen said the school is hiring more teachers, but as the number of teachers and students increase, the need for more space is now urgent.

The school currently holds 2,200 students and 90 faculty members, according to the school’s Web site.

The school has had to use creative tactics with the current facilities, such as the atrium serving as a makeshift study room, the utilization of trailers for classes and the current add-ons of a small number of additional faculty offices.

But Chen said the facilities are not adequate for the growing number of students and research opportunities.

“Enrollment is at an all-time high; we’ve maxed out our space,” Chen said. “We have put computers and study areas everywhere. Unless we get a new building, the curriculum will continue to suffer.”

Unlike other FAMU schools, the engineering program is unique because both FAMU and FSU co-manage it. And it is located away from both campuses, inside Innovation Park, a technology-based research area.

Both schools would have to place the college’s expansion near the top of their state funding requests because the Florida Board of Governors, which sets university policy, has not put the school in a separate funding category.

For 2006, neither FSU nor FAMU had the school near the top of their priority list.

Both schools are aware of the issue, Chen said, but they will have to work together to push for the funding.

BOG spokesman Bill Edmonds said if it is an urgent need for FAMU and FSU to expand the college with new construction, then the funding request lists should reflect that need.

“We understand the school’s need for the expansion, but we always have more projects than we have money to build,” Edmonds said. “We set priority on the projects the universities give priority. This is not the case with FSU and FAMU’s (engineering school.)”

The two university presidents wrote a letter to the BOG during the 2005-2006 school year but received no funds from the effort. Chen said he is working with both administrations to formulate a joint special funding request before the end of the year.

“We need to make a case that this is a joint college and see if we can speed up the process,” he said.

Chen said the school was approved for a $22 million additional facility in 1998 under the Board of Regents, but the school never received the funds because of the change of the system to the BOG and a decrease in available monies.

Chen said because of reasons such as inflation, the newer estimate would be around $30 million.

The school is feeling the pressures of FSU’s increasing enrollment, Chen said. FSU’s numbers have steadily increased in the program since 2001, according to the FSU Office of Institutional Research.

But FAMU’s numbers have dropped since 2004, making the school now three-fourths FSU students. Chen attributes this problem to declining enrollment at FAMU in general. When the university seats a permanent president, Chen said he expects FAMU’s enrollment to rise again.

With expectations for the program to continue to grow, professors and students said research, lab and study space are at the top list of needs.

The problem lies not just with increasing enrollment, but also with growing research opportunities, said Kamal Tawfiq, professor and chairman of the civil and environmental engineering department.

“Research requires a lot of resources and lab space,” Tawfiq said, mentioning the school’s need for a library. “Right now we depend on the libraries at FAMU and FSU. You cannot have a good program without a good library.”

Williams agreed. “The engineering library we have now is no bigger than one of our classrooms, and only a few people are allowed (in) at a time.”

Chen said if the school cannot get special funding approval by the BOG or the legislature for the 2007-2008 school year, FSU and FAMU will have to ask for the funds in 2007 for the 2008-2009 school year.

Chen said the process of receiving the funds, designing the building and construction will be a four- to five-year process.