FSU’s Panama City campus approves a new bachelor’s degree program in mechanical engineering to feed the region’s growing technological sector – but the announcement left out a very important piece.

Last week, the FSU Board of Trustees approved a new bachelor’s degree program in mechanical engineering at the Panama City campus.  As the Panama City News-Herald reported, the program is intended to provide engineers needed for growth at Eastern Shipbuilding, GKN Aerospace and Tyndall Air Force Base.

The discussion at the meeting centered on the relationship between FSU’s campus and the local employers who would scoop up the graduates of the new engineering program.

And that discussion left something really important out.

If FSU-PC wants to make more engineers – including mechanical engineers – the number of local high school graduates who are well-prepared for an undergraduate program in engineering will have to increase.

Fortunately, that increase has already begun at Bay District Schools.  As the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) says, high school students should take physics to be prepared for a college major in engineering.  In the Fall of 2015, there were 113 Bay District high school students enrolled in a physics class.  In the Fall of 2017 – only two years later – there were 270.  (Numbers from the Florida Department of Education)

While this improvement has been led by the teachers, counselors and administrators in the schools and district office, FSU has provided a helping hand.  The university has provided $40,000 worth of physics lab equipment to the district’s high schools.  FSU has hosted three Future Physicists of Florida induction ceremonies for Bay District middle school students.  FSU Physics faculty and staff have spent many hours in meetings and discussions with Bay District teachers, counselors, administrators and parents during the last two years.

While the alignment of a local university campus with regional industries is a good thing, it is far from revolutionary.  What is revolutionary in the Bay County economic ecosystem is the alignment of all three pieces – industry, the university campus and the local school district.  That is what is making Bay County special.  It was a mistake for FSU officials to neglect that during their discussion and announcement.

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Bozeman School chemistry and physics teacher Denise Newsome with her Van de Graaff generator after it was repaired by FSU Physics lecture prep staffer Mark Cartagine last Tuesday, January 16.  Denise also worked with FSU Physics lab director Barbara Reyes on several labs for her own Bozeman classroom during the visit.

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Teachers from Bay and Rutherford High Schools learning electrostatics during the summer of 2016.

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FSU-PC Dean Randy Hanna, PDC, Bay District Science Supervisor Katie McCurdy and Bay High School physics and chemistry teacher Nancy Browne during the 2016 Future Physicists of Florida induction ceremony. 

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