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Cal State Campuses Team Up to Offer Engineering Minor

Dominguez Hills students can enter a new field with study in Fullerton.

March 08, 2004|William Wan | Times Staff Writer

Kenneth Ganezer has spent his life studying forces powerful enough to level cities and move planets. But when the physics professor tried to get an engineering program started on his campus, he met an immovable object: the school budget.

Now, Ganezer believes he and others at Cal State Dominguez Hills have come up with the perfect answer to their financial problem by teaming up with colleagues at Cal State Fullerton.

Under a new program, physics majors starting next fall will be able to study electrical engineering 23 miles down the road in Fullerton. When those students graduate, they will each have a bachelor's degree in physics and a minor in electrical engineering.

The program, though unusual, is not unprecedented. In 2002, Cal State campuses in Chico, San Francisco and San Diego created a similar joint program in Jewish studies.

The drive to bring engineering to Dominguez Hills, however, has a history of failed experiments. In the 1980s, there was a proposal for an optical engineering program that never quite took off.

Then there was a program providing two years of engineering classes that ended after a few years because of funding problems.

Creating an engineering program meant spending too much money on laboratories, faculty and equipment. But Dominguez Hills faculty members believed that engineering would attract more students to their school and lead those students to more jobs.

"Engineering is really applied physics," Ganezer said. "We teach them physics already, but now it's the application we need."

Like many scientific discoveries, the idea for the new program came by chance. Professors from both schools met last year at a NASA conference.

"I was bemoaning the fact that it would be very hard for us to ever get an engineering program," Ganezer said.

Linda Patton, grant director for Fullerton, heard Ganezer, and the two started talking to colleagues about a joint program.

Fullerton, by far the bigger of the schools, already offers eight engineering degree programs.

The collaboration may mean more funding for Fullerton's engineering program, said Clementine Sessoms, federal grant coordinator for Dominguez Hills. "When the [science] agencies give out federal funding, they're looking for instances like this where their money will go further."

Professors from both schools have worked out the details, and the program is waiting for the signatures of the institutions' presidents and approval for federal grants. The program is set to start next fall with five to 10 students in the first class.

The joint program is a creative solution to the problem of resources, said Raman Unnikrishnan, dean of Fullerton's college of engineering.

"Sometimes, two plus two can equal five," he said. "It's a fine example of pooling resources to make more out of less."

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