By Ryan Asselin
Speaking from personal experience, choosing to attend Union was a huge step for me.
One of the large draws that brought me to my decision to choose Union’s Mechanical Engineering Department over competitors of similar pedigree was the promise that every senior had the opportunity to conduct research in a topic that inspired them — the promise of a senior project.
As a small liberal arts school with an even smaller engineering department, Union’s largest draw to the Mechanical Engineering Department was the strong presence of senior projects.
Senior projects are a culmination of one’s entire undergraduate learning, enabling a student to apply what he or she has learned to an undertaking that truly interests him or her.
Although not for everyone, the vast majority of students want a senior project.
Each year, there are only a handful of students that either do not want to participate in a senior project or do not have enough credits to participate in a senior project.
At more than $60,000 per year, if a student has fulfilled the requirements for a senior project and wants a senior project, the school should honor what was promised at Admissions events and in the academic register.
Last year, major changes were made to the mechanical engineering curriculum. These changes were implemented starting this past fall.
The changes include eliminating laboratory and in-class experiences from many fundamental courses, increasing class sizes and no longer requiring a senior project to graduate.
Now, the junior class of mechanical engineering students is learning that only about half of the class’ mechanical engineering students will be allowed to have the senior project experience.
Those students not getting the senior project opportunity will be required to take a writing seminar and another engineering elective — not nearly collateral.
Active learning is always better than passive learning.
Are the writing seminar and additional engineering elective (of which Union has limited options, due to a lack of professors) truly sufficient in replacing the senior project in Union’s faculty, staff and administration’s efforts to “work closely with (students) to provide a broad and deep education, and guide them in finding and cultivating their passions,” as stated in the Union College Mission Statement from the 2012-2013 Academic Register?
With the recent changes, Union, now without the obligation of granting every rising senior a senior project, is no longer limited to how many students the Mechanical Engineering Department can take in.
The small department we had is now growing, and again we are burdened with the problem of less and less access to professors.
As the number of incoming engineering students rises, challenging courses, like thermodynamics, will have to start taking in more students, derailing the Mechanical Engineering Department from arguably the largest benefit of the college — the ability to form professional relationships with faculty through small class sizes.
Why can we not limit the engineering enrollment, honoring Union’s nationally recognized identity as a small, liberal arts college that produces extremely well-rounded engineers?
A solution to this problem needs to be found.
Regardless of the reasoning I have been given through my email attempts and meetings, the fact that mechanical engineering majors in the Class of 2016 will have to fight over limited senior projects slots — which were once promised — is unacceptable.
Looking back on the more than two years I have already spent in college, I have learned more through physical applications of concepts than I have ever learned by simply reading textbooks and listening to lectures.
Curricula change as the school dynamic changes, but with a change as large as removing the mandate on mechanical engineering senior projects, current students should be grandfathered into the once-promised senior project.
I, along with most of my mechanical engineering colleagues, want answers.
Why the change in curriculum?
Why can every rising senior no longer have a senior project, and what is the administration currently doing to fix this problem?
A petition is currently being circulated through the 2015 and 2016 classes of mechanical engineering majors in hopes that the administration sees how important we students believe the senior projects to be.
We, the classes of 2015 and 2016 mechanical engineering majors of the college, believe in the strength of senior projects.
We chose to attend Union on the premise that, upon the commencement of senior year, we would be beginning work on the senior project, mandated in the Union College Academic Register for 2012-2013 (and all academic registers up until the 2014-2015 school year).
We want senior projects. We want answers.