Bosch plant offering buyouts (copy)

The Robert Bosch auto-parts plant in North Charleston is one of the region's largest employers. It is one of many Charleston businesses that supported the College of Charleston's proposed engineering program. File/Provided

A new engineering program recently approved for the College of Charleston was specifically designed with companies like Bosch and Boeing in mind.

The systems engineering program will be the only one in the state and one of a few nationwide, according to Sebastian van Delden, the interim dean of the school of sciences and mathematics.

Its purpose is to cultivate the next generation of highly skilled laborers to meet the demands of the growing technology market across South Carolina. 

The S.C. Commission on Higher Education approved the new bachelor of science degree in systems engineering on Thursday.

The program’s first class of students will start in the 2020 fall semester.

Boeing, Bosch, Mercedes-Benz Vans, Volvo and Capgemini, among others, signed letters supporting the college’s proposal.

“This is essentially a response to our industries here in the Lowcountry,” said Andrew Hsu, College of Charleston’s president. “We talked to them and asked what areas they needed help with. All of them said they needed more engineers.”

New jobs in South Carolina’s technology industry have almost doubled in the past two years, growing from 2,500 new jobs in 2018 to over 4,000 new jobs in 2019, according to CompTIA annual reports.

“Systems engineering is, for us, a program that is extremely interesting and is definitely supporting our future needs,” said Gitta Unger, the commercial plant manager at Bosch’s Charleston location. “This is an excellent opportunity to get those qualified people directly from a reputable college. Hopefully, we can then eliminate some of the training needs we are having in-house at the moment.”

Unger said the program has the potential to aid potential company expansion.

“We can prove we have good university cooperation, which also then qualifies us for future business. So this is something that is also for us strengthening our competitive advantage as a company,” Unger said.

The program’s estimated total cost is $2.5 million. It is projected to pay for itself entirely through student tuition fees, according to the program’s proposal to the higher education commission.

The program also includes specific initiatives to recruit female engineering students, including hiring female professors and establishing a women in engineering student club. Over 700 potential College of Charleston survey respondents said they would be interested in enrolling in an engineering program. Of those who said yes, 48 percent were female, according to van Delden.

“We’re trying to meet the needs of our industry partners, and all industry partners are trying to diversify their engineering workforce,” Hsu said. “The rationale being that a diverse workforce would be more creative and make better products.

The program requires that students take four credits of a foreign language course. Students will also complete a capstone project their senior year.

A proposed introduction of an electrical engineering program was not approved.

Industrial manufacturers are among some of the largest private sector employers in Charleston. 

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Jenna Schiferl is a Columbia native and a reporter at The Post and Courier. She has previously worked as an editor at Garnet & Black Magazine.

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