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JCP: New Milligan engineering program attracts 25 students, more anticipated to join before August opening

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By David Floyd, Johnson City Press

MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Milligan College sophomore Mihail Nakoff thinks it would be “awesome” to one day design and build robotic prosthetics for a living.

“My parents have also thought that I’ve had kind of an engineering mindset,” said Nakoff, who is dual-majoring in mechanical engineering and biology. “I am tending toward bioengineering.”

Starting this fall, he’ll be able to learn some fundamental skills that could eventually lead him down that career path.

Milligan will launch its new engineering program at the beginning of the 2016-17 fall semester. Twenty-five students are currently enrolled, and the college anticipates more students will join the program before the beginning of classes in August. While many of them are entering as freshmen, a few students — including Nakoff — started their education one year before the program officially began.

“I had wanted to get an engineering degree,” Nakoff said. “When I got out of high school I knew that was something I wanted to do, and I knew quite a bit about Milligan because I lived around here.”

Greg Harrell, the director of the school’s engineering program, said the degree path will hinge on three fundamental components: developing work-ready skills that will prepare graduates for entering the workforce; providing students with hands-on experience by working with real-world engineering equipment; and cultivating a commitment to community stewardship and leadership.

Harrell said the spirit of the engineering program will be in lockstep with the school’s strong Christian values.

“Milligan has worked to train servant-leaders for its full existence,” Harrell said. “In other words, it’s been working to train up men and women to be useful tools — no matter where in the world they may reside or find themselves. Engineering is an excellent outshoot of that idea, where we’re trying to equip professionals to be skilled in technical arenas.”

The program will contain two main engineering disciplines — mechanical engineering, which Harrell estimates accounts for about a quarter of the total engineering workforce, and electrical engineering.

Harrell said, however, that there might be an opportunity for expansion in the future — specifically into the realm of computer engineering, which probably won’t happen until a few years from now.

The first few semesters of the engineering curriculum will be composed of general lessons about the various engineering fields, ensuring that students will be confidant in their selection once they decide which of the two disciplines they prefer.

As part of the curriculum, students will also be expected to complete a comprehensive project in their final year that will require them to design and create a solution to a real-world problem.

Harrell gave an example:

“There’s a village in Africa that needs clean water, and we need to be able to supply it to them in a cost-effective and sustainable manner,” Harrell said. “If you think about it … supplying water, cleaning up water, controlling the water supply is a classic mechanical engineering problem.”

The department will have a preset list of projects that students can choose from — including regional projects in Tennessee and issues like limited mobility caused by physical disabilities — but Harrell said faculty have also taken suggestions from students.

“We are working diligently to have projects that are meaningful, useful and within the capabilities of our students’ skill sets,” Harrell said.

The school has also received financial assistance from private donors and local industries. On Wednesday, the college announced that the Eastman Foundation committed $250,000 to the program, and in response, the college decided to add the name Eastman to its mechanical engineering design lab.

Prior to this, Milligan received a $1 million lead gift from Ruth Myers, whose husband — Malcolm Myers — was an engineer. Myers’ daughter and two of her grandchildren also graduated from the school.

In total, nearly $2 million in monetary gifts has been provided for the program and other STEM-related fields, with about 20 to 30 percent of the funds coming from industry partners.

The money has been used to pay for operational costs, build laboratories in the Phillips Building — which will host the program — and enhance other STEM-related programs on campus.

Harrell said the partnerships the college has developed with local industries have been another valuable component of the program, establishing internship and co-op opportunities with local businesses.

“One of the reasons we built the engineering program here at Milligan is because the local industries … have for quite some time been telling us that they’ll hire engineers from outside the area and from time to time, maybe even often, they’ll have difficulty holding those engineers in the area,” Harrell said, “because not everyone falls in love with East Tennessee like we do.”

Harrell said engineers trained and equipped locally have a greater likelihood of staying in the area after they graduate.

Ultimately, Milligan officials say the the program will offer a distinctive experience for aspiring engineers in the area, providing a blend of both a liberal arts education and strong technical expertise.

“We are responding to the requests we’re hearing and putting together programs that are absolutely unique,” Harrell said. “Not from what (students will) learn from an engineering standpoint, but from a liberal arts and Christian standpoint.”

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MILLIGAN COLLEGE is a Christian liberal arts college in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The college offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan College, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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