Oct 24, 201711:18 AMInside Wisconsin
with Tom Still
Keeping up higher ed investments will help meet workforce needs
(page 1 of 2)
A few hundred yards from the UW–Madison College of Engineering’s core campus is a fresh example of why engineering is more than classrooms and theory: It’s a hands-on discipline for turning ideas into prototypes and products that help people.
Opened in September, the Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Laboratory is a “makerspace” open to inventors, designers, builders, and old-fashioned tinkerers, primarily within the College of Engineering, but also to students and faculty elsewhere on campus.
Occupying 12,000 square feet in Wendt Commons, the space comes equipped with 3-D printers, laser cutters, machine tools, virtual and augmented reality software, microscopes, soldering irons, a paint shop, and more tools to put physical form to ideas.
The makerspace also represents the changing face of higher education — and why Wisconsin has advantages worthy of nurturing through public and private support.
The UW–Madison College of Engineering leveraged a gift from the Grainger Foundation to outfit the makerspace, which is already producing innovative devices such as a haptic stethoscope, an electronic page turner, and new ways to help visually impaired people find their way around a building.
Meanwhile, the college is busting at the seams when it comes to accepting students who want to be there and meeting industry demand for its graduates.
There are roughly 4,500 undergraduate students in UW–Madison’s engineering sequence today. About 6,600 applied last year, including many qualified applicants from outside Wisconsin who could add to the state’s talent base.
The main barrier to taking more is a lack of faculty to educate more students without diminishing the quality of the experience for all. Private gifts help, but the core funding for faculty hires comes from state government support and student tuition. Neither source has grown much for years.
As a result, the college has seen some peer rankings slip, even though none of its core departments — biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical, engineering physics, industrial, materials science, and mechanical — ranks below 24th nationally. Some are within the top 10.
The issue is similar in other colleges and universities, even as those institutions are being asked to produce more graduates to meet the demand for skilled workers in Wisconsin.