By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau
The new students moving onto campus next week as part of the largest freshman class in Grand Canyon University history include some of the University’s first-ever computer science and information technology majors.
By 2018 those students will be among the first to complete degrees designed to groom the next wave of computer engineers, IT programmers, video simulation designers and other tech personnel. GCU Today will chronicle the University's tech focus through the Daily Dose of STEM blog, which launched today.
The launch of the two new programs signifies GCU’s re-emphasis on its academic commitment to science, technology, engineering and mathematics — also known as the STEM disciplines.
But computer science and IT programs are just the beginning. GCU also plans to launch an electrical engineering program by next fall and, over the next few years, to build technology innovation laboratories where students across various academic programs collaborate on projects — such as robotics, health care informatics systems or mobile apps — designed to address industry needs. Other science degrees also are being considered.
Nearly two years ago, when GCU began planning the degree programs that would best address STEM industry demands, University officials met with K-12 educators and local technology businesses to gauge the needs of both students and graduates.
The result: a pedagogy that blends GCU’s Christian mission with the need to produce students who demonstrated experience in team-project arenas and have specific, refined tech skill sets to land jobs.
“The curriculum is very interactive between classroom practice and business needs,” said Dr. Hank Radda, GCU’s provost, who led efforts to begin expanding University STEM programs.
“You have to teach students how to build, and fail, and then do it again,” he said.
Radda said GCU has long succeeded in developing pre-med students, nurses and other health care professionals. Merging existing academic programs, such as the colleges of Business and Nursing and Health Care Professions, with new tech programs will encourage interdisciplinary approaches to project development. For example, nursing or pre-med students could collaborate with engineering students or computer science students to develop plans for a new hospital product. Business students could help take a tech business plan to market.
GCU’s strong entrepreneurship programs in the College of Business likely will overlap with STEM initiatives, University leaders said.
Dr. Mark Wooden, dean of GCU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology, anticipated the University will set itself apart from larger tech and engineering programs at other universities through a continued focus on developing multidimensional students.
As part of its design principles, academic planners set up the new programs to include thorough group projects to foster "soft skills" that many tech employers look for in entry-level job candidates.
“You have to be able to work on a team, be able to communicate, and have a level of integrity where you care about other members of your team,” said Wooden, who helped oversee the split this summer of GCU’s College of Arts and Sciences into the College of Science, Engineering and Technology and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Wooden, Radda and others involved in GCU's STEM program said the University will focus this year on cultivating industry support to begin forming a permanent source of skilled tech workers for metro Phoenix.
“You look at these areas of technology, science and engineering — they dominate our world now,” Wooden said. “They are defining the 21st century. There are pockets in this country where these industries tend to go to (for workers). Phoenix is not one of them.”
By October, GCU will break ground on a new engineering building on Camelback Road, east of Ethington Theatre, that will be a hub for technology innovation and student collaboration.
This fall, it might seem like slow going, as the first wave of computer science and IT students begin their freshman coursework — but STEM announcements will steadily increase almost immediately, as the University sets its sights on the future.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 602-639-7030 or [email protected].