Cornerstone, GVSU partner on engineering program


Cornerstone University will offer a four-strand engineering degree beginning this fall, thanks to a partnership with Grand Valley State University.

The two institutions began talks about a year-and-a-half ago regarding leveraging their complementary assets to offer the first-ever engineering degree program for Cornerstone and an expanded set of offerings in the existing engineering program at GVSU.

The program, which includes strands in environmental engineering, design and innovation engineering, engineering management and data science, will take place partly at GVSU and partly at Cornerstone.

GVSU President Thomas Haas said the agreement addresses the need for more engineers in the workforce.

Engineering jobs in West Michigan have grown nearly 29 percent since 2010, eclipsing national trends of 7.7 percent growth and increasing the number of high-skill, high-wage jobs in the region.

“This unique partnership between public and private universities will provide the opportunity for students to develop particular engineering skill sets that are needed in West Michigan and the region,” Haas said. “Grand Valley is pleased to work with Cornerstone to ensure the success of our students — our future engineers.”

Cornerstone will offer the degree under the umbrella of GVSU’s existing Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)-accredited interdisciplinary engineering degree.

Joseph Stowell, Cornerstone’s president, said the collaboration is a good example of the types of higher education partnerships that are becoming increasingly important as funding dwindles.

“By sharing support and resources, students at both universities will have opportunities for greater success,” he said.

Pete Muir, dean of accreditation and curriculum at Cornerstone, said GVSU was eager to help but wanted to avoid programmatic redundancies.

“For Grand Valley, it was a matter of, ‘If we’re going to partner, what makes sense?’ With Cornerstone not offering the same things they are already doing, their suggestion was, ‘Let’s go after a partnership with creativity and collaboration,’ and that’s where we dreamt up these strands.”

Muir said Cornerstone has taught design thinking core classes and a creativity minor for about a decade, and GVSU wanted to incorporate those elements into its engineering disciplines.

Cornerstone also has an alliance with the Au Sable Institute for Environmental Studies in Mancelona in northern Michigan’s Antrim County, and two of the environmental engineering strand courses will be held at the institute during the summer.

GVSU offers the advantage of multimillion-dollar facilities and equipment that Cornerstone could not afford to replicate.

Students enrolled at GVSU will take prerequisite courses there, and Cornerstone students will take prerequisites on its campus.

Grand Valley will host the foundational engineering classes at its campus — the ones that require laboratory infrastructure — and Cornerstone students will attend those classes.

“Once they have taken those engineering foundation classes, students will be ready to select what strand they go on to,” Muir said.

“(GVSU has) all the management classes and data sciences on their campuses already. But for the design and innovation and environmental engineering strand, Grand Valley students will come on our campus and do those classes. They won’t have to develop them themselves.”

Muir said Cornerstone admissions counselors received about 200 inquiries regarding an engineering program from prospective students in the last recruiting cycle, and the school is hoping to enroll 20 to 25 students in the new program.

Cornerstone students will be able to start the data science and engineering management strands this fall when the program soft launches.

“The other two strands, environmental engineering and design and innovation, still have to go through internal approvals,” Muir said. “Grand Valley is anticipating offering those in January 2018, and we are anticipating offering them in fall 2018.”

Examples of courses the colleges will offer, depending on the strand, include environmental applications for geographic information systems, the science of human innovation, strategic thought, operations management, organizational behavior, data mining and introduction to app development.

Muir said the strands will prepare students for careers such as sustainable development (including building LEED-certified structures), clean water and clean air engineering, technology product development based on design thinking, statistical work like election polling, people flow, and engineering project management.

GVSU will rely on its current faculty roster to teach the courses, but Cornerstone plans to hire one full-time faculty member and a few adjuncts.

“The full-time faculty member will also be the liaison to shepherd the partnership between the two institutions and make sure students know how to register and how to get to Grand Valley’s campus,” Muir said. “I’ve been playing that intermediary role, but the day-to-day running of the program needs to be done by an engineer.”

Muir, who is from Australia, said he believes Grand Rapids is the right place to foster a partnership like this one.

“Grand Valley and Cornerstone are unlike institutions — one is public and one is private — but we share similar community values,” he said. “Maybe not in our mission, but in community values. In that sense, Grand Rapids is unlike any other place I’ve visited.”

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