Iowa City Press-Citzen: Enrollment Surges at UI for Engineering

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Seamans Center expansion coming

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s work to boost interest among middle and high school students in science, technology, engineering and math is part of a broader, national push toward those fields — the effects of which are being felt at the University of Iowa.

Enrollment in UI’s College of Engineering has skyrocketed in recent years, growing 66 percent in the past decade, with the majority of that growth occurring in the past five years, according to UI data. Likewise, the college’s dean says the Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts and Sciences is bursting at the seams.

After the Iowa state Board of Regents in October approved the construction of a $30 million, 65,000-square-foot addition to the Seamans Center, Engineering Dean Alec Scranton is pushing the process forward: He’s establishing a fundraising committee and a building planning committee that will gather input and sort through the details.

The expansion will add more lab space, more classrooms and more space for students to study and work on group projects. Construction won’t begin until 2016. Until then, students study at tables set up in the building’s atrium. An area that once housed staff cubicles has been transformed into more study space, Scranton said.

“We’ve certainly been optimizing our use of the space,” he said.

The most recent expansion to the Seamans Center, built in 1906, was completed in 2001.

That was a $31 million modernization project — the facility’s first in 30 years — that added classrooms, labs and study and meeting areas while preserving much of the original building.

Scranton said he predicts enrollment will hit 2,000 students next fall, judging by its trajectory to this point. The college has 1,840 students, up from 1,667 in fall 2011, 1,573 in fall 2010 and 1,411 in fall 2009.

The 2016 expansion originally was planned as a larger $40 million project, but was scaled back when planners realized that wouldn’t be feasible, said Jennifer Hoffman, design project manager in UI Facilities Management.

The project’s leaders now are in the process of choosing an architect, which they hope to do by December in order to get the design effort started as soon as possible in 2013, Hoffman said.

The growth in students has been evenly distributed across the college’s departments, which include biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical, industrial and mechanical engineering.

The need for more people working in STEM fields has been recognized at the national level. President Obama, in an address in February, called to increase the number of college students studying engineering, Scranton said.

While STEM skills are important, Scranton said the College of Engineering works to strike a balance as it educates students.

“We’re very well known for creating well-rounded engineers who not only have an outstanding technical background, but are good communicators and often have a double major or a minor in the liberal arts and sciences,” he said. “We work hard to create an atmosphere and an environment that fosters that type of student.”