UAFS plans to add manufacturing degree program

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 575 views 

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith plans to add a new bachelor’s degree in smart manufacturing by as soon as Fall 2025. The new effort will be part of a new center of excellence at the university.

Latisha Settlage, dean of the College of Business & Industry at UAFS, said the new program could grow the university and help the community.

“We are looking on campus for opportunities to cut (expenses), but are also looking on campus at opportunities to generate more revenue,” Settlage said. “When we talk about new programs development, we certainly want to look at opportunities that are going to address the regional needs.”

In February, UAFS announced plans to cut five programs:
• Computer-Aided Design – associate of applied science degree and related certificates
• General Technology Automotive Concentration – associate of applied science degree and related certificates
• Political Science – bachelor of arts degree (the political science minor will remain)
• Spanish – bachelor of arts (the Spanish minor and certificate of proficiency will remain)
• Theater – bachelor of arts (the theater minor will remain)

At the April 17 UAFS Board of Visitors meeting, the administration rolled out a plan for a new program—one in advanced manufacturing. According to UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley, a group of faculty and administrators has been meeting to determine ways to create a Center for Advanced Manufacturing as one of the university’s five Centers of Excellence.

The other Centers of Excellence at UAFS are Health Care, Data Science, art, and the Center for Economic Development.

In May 2023, UAFS announced a $1 million investment from ABB to help the university with the degree program. For more than a year, groups visited area manufacturing plants, talked with industry leaders about needs and expectations regarding hiring students who are ready on day one, and began developing an advisory board for a UAFS Advanced Manufacturing. The advisory board recommended the creation of a bachelor of science degree in smart manufacturing or smart systems engineering.

To develop this initiative, the provost has worked with faculty in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Business and Industry to reorganize and provide vital and comprehensive resources, Riley said. The plan is for the existing engineering program with the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the to-be-proposed program in smart manufacturing/systems engineering, and electrical engineering technology to be brought together in CBI under a single Department of Engineering.

Riley said a search for an assistant professor in mechanical engineering to fill the vacant position and an open rank search in manufacturing/systems engineering for a departmental leader should begin immediately. The intent is to propose an ABET-accredited program to support smart manufacturing engineering, which, pending the necessary approvals, will aim to launch as early as fall 2025.

The vision, Settlage said, is to offer a bachelor’s degree in smart manufacturing engineering and a certificate of proficiency in advanced manufacturing. She said local manufacturers said the skillset needed from students should include Mechatronics, robotics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, programming/coding, CAD/CAM, communication, quality control/assurance, collaboration, problem-solving, change management, business case analysis, supply chain management.

The bachelor’s degree would require 36 hours of general education, 18 hours of supplemental general education (such as in science, math, and statistics), 19 hours of traditional engineering, 38 hours of smart manufacturing engineering, and six hours of electives (such as data analytics, design, and operations/supply chain). Settlage said the end result will be graduates who design and implement smart enterprise systems that forever change manufacturing.

“The curriculum is already in place. We are looking right now at filling some positions,” she said.

She said the program’s needs would include $2 million to $5 million for laboratory renovation, $2 million to $3 million for new faculty hires, $1 million to $2 million for administrative and support staff for the center of excellence, and $50,000-$100,000 for marketing and promotions.

“The center concept would provide space for all of our partners to not only work with students on projects, but also, if they have research needs, they can access faculty expertise, maybe even space, to try some things out as they are looking at adopting the technologies that are part of this new initiative,” Settlage said, noting this would also be a benefit for the community.

Bill Hanesworth, who was the general manager and vice president for Rheem Manufacturing in Fort Smith before becoming the chief executive officer of Littlefield Oil, thinks the initiative could be great for the community.

“We can’t continue to do manufacturing like we have been doing it,” Hanesworth said. “This is just my opinion, but things are going to change. That’s probably going to cost some jobs, but then that means there will be more higher paying jobs needed.”

Companies seek employees with the skills to work, program and repair the automated systems, and those employees will need a high skill level, Hanesworth said.

“I think this is definitely worth the money,” Hanesworth said, noting that means both by the university to provide the program and by the individual to get that education. “It will be good money, well spent.”