Robert J. Marley, Dean
Robert J. Marley, Dean


Despite economic challenges that we face globally, I’m confident that MSU’s College of Engineering has a bright future. I appreciate a quote from Bernice Johnson Reagon: “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”

Montana State University, including the College of Engineering, knows who we are and we know how to make prudent use of our precious resources. This is true regardless of changes ahead—and changes are inevitable.

Arguably the greatest change will occur in the campus leadership with the retirement of President Gamble. As I write to you, three outstanding candidates for our next President are interviewing on campus. UPDATE: The search committee has selected Waded Cruzado-Salas as the next President of Montana State University.

A smaller change is the format for this Newsletter. The opportunity to reduce printing and mailing costs made the decision to move to an electronic format an easy one. But the opportunity to also provide enhanced feature stories about our students and faculty was another compelling reason to make the move now.

In this inaugural electronic issue of the Newsletter, please follow the links to a wider variety of faculty, student and College highlights and articles with full details.

Tradition of Excellence

One thing that hasn’t changed is that MSU, and particularly the COE, have a stellar record of producing a high return on investment. All engineers I know appreciate seeing the numbers, so I’ve included a few that back up that claim.

So that we can compare ourselves to peer institutions, MSU has been participating in an ongoing study, the Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity. The study lets participating institutions benchmark teaching workloads, instructional costs and productivity by academic discipline. In 2008, 196 institutions participated in the survey that gathered data for fiscal year 2007.

Providing a high quality education at an incredibly low cost is one way in which MSU shines. Compared to peers in the Delaware Study, the COE’s departments are extremely productive. Our departments spend from 16 to 54% less than the mean of their peers when measured per student full-time equivalent (FTE). Similarly, spending on operations and capital per student credit hour (SCH) is anywhere from 20 to 69% less than the mean of their peers.

Although we run very lean, we can’t do it at the students’ expense. We spend a good share of our budgets to support student success. Undergraduate students at MSU, measured by credit hours, are more often taught by tenured or tenure-track, full-time faculty compared to students in departments at peer institutions. The prevalence of having such faculty teaching our students is as high as 207% compared to similar departments elsewhere.

For us, preparing students for their careers is paramount, and pass rates for the Fundamentals of Engineering Exams (FE) are an important measure of that. We see our students’ consistently high pass rates as evidence of the value of providing students with consistent contact with dedicated faculty. Beginning in spring 2000, we began requiring all of our graduating seniors to take the FE exam. That requirement adds students who wouldn’t ordinarily take the exam to the data pool. Despite this, MSU students’ cumulative pass rate from spring 2000 through spring 2009—88.3%—exceeds the national average of 78.3% by a full 10%.

Looking Forward

There's no doubt that all students need to conquer the fundamentals, but we want our students to experience enhanced opportunities for teamwork and life-long learning to help launch successful careers. In their junior year, our students now take the new ENGR 310: Introduction to Engineering Design. Here they practice multi-disciplinary design and apply what they've learned in previous classes, and it jump starts their confidence for taking on senior design projects.

Exploring Opportunities

In light of these data, it’s tempting to simply pat ourselves on the back for doing so well on tight budgets. However, I’d rather continue to ask, “How can we achieve even more and take advantage of opportunities that lie ahead?"

Now might be the time for you to consider whether you can help our students succeed as well. Because we run so lean, a gift that in other places might be considered small and possibly even insignificant can be truly transformative here.

Gifts need not be monetary. Perhaps it’s more practical for you to offer equipment, a guest lecture, an internship, or a senior design project. Think of what else our students and faculty might accomplish with the additional support.

Contact me if you want to share your opinions about these figures, our new electronic newsletter, or anything else that’s on your mind.