WMU introduces second aerospace graduate program in Michigan


Western Michigan University is adding the second aerospace engineering graduate program in the state to its repertoire for fall 2014.

Parviz Merati, department chair and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at WMU, said the program developed due to the interest level in aerospace engineering by students and program growth over the years.

“This year the freshman cohort of aerospace engineering that is coming into the college of engineering is the largest in the college. It is amazing how much interest there is in this program,” said Merati. “We saw an opportunity for us to have a master’s program in aerospace engineering so that both the students would benefit from that, as well as our faculty that we hired to have masters students do research.”

Merati said enrollment in the undergraduate program has grown drastically over the years, increasing from approximately 50 students initially to more than 200. WMU also has expanded its faculty specializing in aerospace engineering to seven full-time members with doctoral degrees.

Two recent faculty hired in aerospace engineering include Kristina Lemmer, who recently received a grant to conduct aerospace propulsion and plasma dynamics research, and Jennifer Hudson, who was given a grant by Jet Propulsion Laboratory to research small satellites in a program that is sponsored by NASA.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, expects a 7 percent growth for aerospace engineers in terms of employment from 2012 to 2022, citing work on engines and propulsion as a field in demand.

“We have seven faculty in the aerospace engineering program and so there is a lot of potential for these students to go into masters programs,” said Merati.

The aerospace engineering program at WMU requires a minimum of 30 credit hours of combined coursework, thesis and research hours. Students will have the opportunity to gain a concentration in three different areas: aerospace structure and materials; aerodynamics and propulsion; or flight dynamics and control.

Graduate students enrolled in the aerospace engineering program at WMU will have access to the research facilities at the engineering college in specialized fields, including plasma experiments, advanced thermal science, applied aerodynamics, advanced vehicle design and simulation, fuel cell evaluation and research, and fluid dynamics.

“They can do thesis or they can do projects, or they can do just coursework, but most of the aerospace engineering students that get into masters, they are more interested in doing research in aerospace,” said Merati in regard to the new curriculum. 

After creating the curriculum for the new graduate program at WMU, Merati said it required approval from the department, college, and university levels. The master of science in aerospace engineering also required approval by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. The nonprofit higher education association is comprised of presidents and chancellors from the 15 public universities in the state.

Merati said having the graduate program will raise WMU’s stature in regard to research, and allow students to remain in the area who want to further their learning in the specific field.

“We are one of the two programs in the state of Michigan. So the students have very few choices,” said Merati. “There were some students who wanted to get their master’s in aerospace in engineering, but since we didn’t have that, they went to other universities, so we were losing those students in addition to international students… So it provides another opportunity, another university for them to get their masters, to continue their education without moving.”

WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences offers 17 undergraduate programs, including aerospace engineering, chemical engineering, computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and industrial and entrepreneurial engineering. The college also provides graduate programs in chemical, mechanical, and engineering management; and six doctoral degrees in the fields of engineering and computer science.

The only other higher education institution offering a master’s degree in aerospace engineering is the University of Michigan.

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