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Parents and prospective College of Charleston students tour the campus Monday, October 29, 2018. Brad Nettles/Staff

Innovation is the buzzword of the moment. You hear it everywhere: in industry, in education, in almost every Ted Talk. Innovation, most everyone agrees, is the key to the future.

At the College of Charleston, we teach innovative thinking and creative problem-solving in all of our academic offerings — from A to Z (think anthropology to zoology). However, for more than a century — since 1906, to be exact — the College has not offered coursework in the one area that contributes most to innovation: engineering. Simply put, engineering is the study of making things or making those things better.

When I was a professor, I would ask my students to take note of their surroundings in the classroom, and I would challenge them to find something that was not engineered. After a moment of looking at chairs, desks, walls and maybe a tree out the window, I would say, “You see two kinds of things — things made by God and things made by engineers. This is why engineering is so important to the world in which we live.”

And there is a great need for engineers here in South Carolina. The demand in the marketplace is far outpacing the labor supply. To address this shortage, for the past year, the college has been working with regional industry partners, elected officials and higher education leaders around the state to create a new systems engineering program at the college.

Our faculty worked closely with industry representatives of AmplifiedAg, Boeing, Bosch, Capgemini, the Charleston County Economic Development Department, the Charleston Digital Corridor, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, Hill-Rom, Mercedes-Benz, Sapience Automation and Volvo to build a curriculum that combines the hard and soft skills necessary for a 21st-century engineer. Their insights were critical in developing this interdisciplinary program, which will include elements of all of the engineering disciplines. Of special note, the new systems engineering program will be the only one of its kind in South Carolina at the undergraduate level.

The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education recently approved the college’s proposal for a bachelor’s degree program in systems engineering. On behalf of the college, I would like to thank the commissioners for their support.

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I would also like to commend the leadership of Gov. Henry McMaster and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt. They were both early proponents and vocal supporters of the college’s efforts and saw the benefits of our new engineering program and its potential to not only fulfill the needs of current industry, but to also recruit future businesses to the state.

The College of Charleston has a ready-made home base for engineering in our newly renovated Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center. It is a state-of-the-art facility on one of the country’s most beautiful campuses and will prove a wonderful laboratory for training tomorrow’s engineers.

Like many of our faculty, I can’t wait to welcome our first class of engineering students in fall 2020. And I really can’t wait to see the many things they will make – and make better.

Andrew T. Hsu is the 23rd president of the College of Charleston.

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