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Partners in Progress

Technology and tighter budgets make inter-university majors more common


engineering success: Professor Joe Fahmy (left) and students Nick Matney '12 (seated, left) and Patrick Herron '12 discuss the practical applications of mechatronics with UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder, UNC President Tom Ross, and N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson.

ON THE SECOND FLOOR of Robinson Hall, two Mechatronics undergraduates tweak a DC-powered motor to allow its speed to be controlled by a computer. On the other side of the Quad, in Karpen Hall, a classroom full of students working on their Pharmacy doctorates communicate with their professor in Chapel Hill via microphones and a massive teleconference screen. Both majors are made entirely possible by the collaboration of UNC Asheville and partner schools within the UNC System.

At a time when states all across the country are slashing education budgets, university systems are finding it advantageous to establish partnerships between sister schools. "It's a growing trend because the UNC system is trying to find ways to avoid the duplication of programs—in regions, anyway—to ensure efficiency," said Edward Katz, UNC Asheville's associate provost and dean of University Programs.

UNC Asheville has been taking measures to strengthen its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) offerings through collaborations with N.C. State's College of Engineering in Raleigh and UNC Chapel Hill's Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

"Mechatronics is not what you would typically expect to find at a liberal arts institution," said President of the UNC System Tom Ross, "but this engineering program—which is a multi-disciplinary engineering program—really fits with this campus."

The program at UNC Asheville is one of only two in the nation certified by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Students in Mechatronics, now in its sixth year, attend classes exclusively at UNC Asheville but receive a diploma that also lists N.C. State as a joint issuer; a graduate of this program thus has two alma maters. For the students attending the Pharmacy program, their diploma comes from UNC Chapel Hill's Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Keith Krumpe, UNC Asheville's dean of Natural Sciences, is particularly excited about the influx of undergraduate recruits to UNC Asheville who are interested in pursuing the sciences as a result of the new PharmD program. "When [Eshelman is] bringing in 30 new graduate students, I want them to have at least 20 of our (undergraduate) students applying who are ready for doctoral work."

Does this trend mean UNC Asheville will host more new majors or programs with its partner universities? Maybe. Katz confirmed that preliminary conversations were taking place about possible collaborations, but they were "in very early stages...There are definitely opportunities," he said. "Particularly in this climate of fiscal retrenchment, universities will find it advantageous to work together on programming like this. If these initial discussions evolve into viable collaboration opportunities, faculty from participating institutions will, of course, take leading roles in program development and design."

"Collaborative education and collaborative work is not something that's on its way out," Krumpe underlined, "it's on its way in."

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