Teddy Mullet has always liked building things by hand. While his cousin bought a kit to build a laser, Mullet decided to buy the parts separately and make his own. So when he was in his junior year at Sarasota Christian School, he was thinking of applying to University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
One problem – USFSM had no engineering program.
“So senior year, I was kind of scrambling, where am I going to go, I applied to all these places, I can’t pick one,” Mullet said. “Then my guidance counselor came to me and she said, ‘Hey, I talked to the dean of admissions at Sarasota-Manatee and they’re starting an engineering program,’ and I was like, ‘Holy cow, this is perfect, I’ve got to go there!’”
Now to be completely accurate, USFSM isn’t starting an engineering program – they’re building a bridge to USF’s Tampa campus.
Not a literal bridge – it’s a “two plus two” program, which means two years of general studies at USF Sarasota-Manatee and then two years at USF’s main campus, completing the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in engineering.
“Some students don’t want to leave home as quickly as other students might be willing to do that, maybe for other reasons – that they want to keep their first two years closer to home,” Dr. Robert Bishop, dean of the USF College of Engineering said. “But essentially, it’s a way for us to offer the opportunity to be an engineer to a larger group of students who are really outstanding students, creative students, and we want them to be engineers.”
Dr. Sandra Stone, the regional chancellor for USF Sarasota-Manatee, adds that some students may want to start their college careers at a smaller campus like hers. While the Tampa campus has over 30,000 undergraduates, Sarasota-Manatee has less than 2,000.
“We have the ability to offer a lot of support services for students, and faculty are willing to spend a lot of time with students and help them and I think it’s a little bit less threatening than some of the larger campuses for students who want to build some academic confidence before they move on,” Dr. Stone said.
But the demand for an engineering program isn’t just coming from the students.
“One of the things that I heard clearly from the business community when we were working on our strategic plan was a need for more engineers in the area to fill jobs that they had open and they were saying they’re not only going out of the region but they’re going out of the state to recruit students,” Stone said.
One of the good things about the two plus two program is that it takes the need out of transferring credits between campuses. According to Bishop, the general education courses engineers need – math, physics and chemistry with some fundamental liberal arts classes sprinkled in – are basically the same at all three of USF’s branches.
“Because engineering is an application of math and science, and so we just need to take the students from their high school level math and science to the college level math and science before we introduce them to most of the engineering courses third and fourth year,” Bishop said.
In addition, the move comes just as USFSM is creating a new College of Science and Mathematics.
“That’s where the economic development folks are saying that they’re targeting industry that are in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) areas and they need a workforce, so we’re looking at how to grow that part of our curriculum,” Stone said.
The first degree offered will be in mechanical engineering, and around a dozen students have signed up for the inaugural class. However, it will soon expand to all eight undergraduate engineering majors.
“Mechanical engineering is a very foundational engineering program,” Bishop said, “but there is so much interest in other areas, like civil engineering and biomedical engineering and electrical and computer science that we really need to move beyond mechanical engineering and will do so.”
The college will be placing advisors at Sarasota-Manatee to assist students, plus aspiring engineers will be invited to attend events at the Tampa campus during their first two years so they’re treated just like any other student.
There’s also the possibility that this kind of cooperation could extend to the USF St. Petersburg campus, as well as other majors across the system as well. For example, Tampa has strong programs in Health and Health Sciences, as well as the Arts, St. Petersburg has digital journalism and Sarasota-Manatee has USF’s only College of Hospitality and Tourism Leadership.
But for students like Teddy Mullet, it’s all about the draw of living half an hour away from campus, and studying the subject he wants to make a career out of.
“It really jumped out at me when I saw that they had the program here, I was like, that is the perfect place for me to go,” Mullet said. “It’s close to home, it was my first choice of college initially and they have engineering, so it was just like a big neon sign, ‘Come here.’”