College's split is scientific proof of University's STEM focus

College of Engineering and Technology Dean Paul Lambertson (left) and College of Natural Sciences Dean Dr. Mark Wooden say the split of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology means more innovative curriculum and better job opportunities.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in the February issue of GCU Magazine.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Dr. Mark Wooden’s Grand Canyon University office entrance door is now labeled with something dear to his heart: College of Natural Sciences.

“This is where my passion is,” said the dean of CNS, created during a restructure this fall that also launched the College of Engineering and Technology and brought the number of colleges at GCU to 10. “I’m thrilled. The split has freed me up. We are going to get innovative in our online curriculum and do more than health care with a number of fields where students can go out and get a job.

“We’re stepping into the next evolution of where science should be.”

Wooden helped launch the former College of Science, Engineering and Technology in 2014, earn accreditations for numerous programs and expand it to meet the demands of industry.

But growth in engineering and high-demand technology fields meant it was time to split CSET into two colleges. The restructure also signaled the continued evolution of a university whose foundation was teaching, nursing and preaching.

Provost Dr. Randy Gibb said University leaders listened to industry experts on its STEM advisory board.

“And industry demands that we adapt as a university to what the economy needs, so one of those steps was restructuring CSET into CET and CNS,” he said. “It’s a better opportunity for students to have hiring pathways and for us to be more intentional with engineering and technology.”

GCU leadership fosters active dialogue between the college and industry, said Matt Doretti, a 40-year veteran of IBM and GCU advisory board member since 2015, and the creation of two colleges means “a more responsive alignment with industry needs, which fosters a more tailored approach to education, programs, research and vocational readiness in each field.”

Paul Lambertson said more academic programs will be added to the College of Engineering and Technology. Plans are to add degrees in civil, aerospace and systems engineering.

GCU hired Paul Lambertson as CET dean, and he brings deep experience and industry ties from his career with the Air Force, including his teaching years with the Air Force Academy and Boeing Co. But he also brings enthusiasm for the field.

“There is going to be no lack of energy, no lack of passion from me, because I view this as a calling,” Lambertson said. “This is a very special place, and I am really blessed, humbled and pleased to be here.”

He said the restructure was right for the University because science is very different from engineering and technology, and he is going to bring a tighter focus to the new college.

The key to growing from the more than 5,000 ground and online students enrolled in CET this fall is adding academic programs, chiefly undergraduate degrees in civil, aerospace and systems engineering. These programs are in the one- to two-year development and approval cycle. There could be up to a dozen programs launching, as well, at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels.

He also already is fast at work on synergy between the colleges at the University, including CNS and the Colangelo College of Business, but even the College of Arts and Media.

Dr. Mark Wooden said programs in the College of Natural Sciences have been launched to prepare undergraduates for graduate schools in physical therapy, veterinary medicine and dentistry.

The growth in technology will be a big driver in the college. While projected job growth in engineering fields is strong, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth in positions such as information security analyst from 2022 to 2032 is 32%.

Cybersecurity is my largest growth area,” Lambertson said. “Cybersecurity is something every company needs. Engineering will have strong numbers, but not everybody wants to be an engineer. Technology and engineering share much programmatically, but they also have some intriguing differences – those differences take our students into some really cool areas.”

One area of growth he foresees is in developing cybersecurity certificate programs.

“For people who can’t afford to go to college or maybe don’t want to go to college, you can put them through a certificate program. They can say ‘I’ve got a cybersecurity certificate from Grand Canyon University. Put me to work, boss.’

“We are trying to meet the students where they are. They may not have the desire to get a bachelor’s degree, but they do have the desire to provide for their families. So now we are getting back into human flourishing. When we talk about programs that can better people’s lives or the lives of their families, man, throw me in. I’m all in.”

Wooden also is responding to job market opportunities to grow CNS, which this fall had an enrollment of more than 3,900 ground and online students.

While many students enroll in biology programs that are preparation for medical school, Wooden says other options are available if they decide it’s not for them or view the number of years and cost to medical school as a detriment. For example, the college offers nutritional science, forensic science or exercise science as options.

Programs also have been recently launched that prepare undergraduates for graduate schools in physical therapy, veterinary medicine and dentistry.

“And we are focused on creative solutions for people who want to go into science master’s programs, designing bridge programs that are online,” he said.

Not all require extensive lab time or can be tailored to a virtual format, such as the innovative graduate forensic science program.

It all means a renewed focus in a building that appropriately sits near the main entrance to campus.

“This has really freed me up to grow the college,” Wooden said.

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