New online degree offered by engineering school

Joan Vinson

Individuals no longer have to be physically present in the classroom to acquire a UT master’s degree in engineering management. Beginning next month, students will be able to obtain this degree entirely online.

The Cockrell School of Engineering announced this 24-month degree program in June and will begin accepting student applications in August. Students in the online program must complete 30 credit hours of curriculum focusing on the most recent methods and technology used for business decisions in the engineering field. Students will take 16 hours of classes online once a month for two years. They will join current students completing the degree on campus and will be virtually projected onto a screen in the classroom.

A master’s degree in engineering management costs $40,000 for traditional graduate students taking the classes on-site and $42,000 for students in the online degree program, including tuition, fees and books. The application deadline for the class of 2014 is Nov. 1, 2012.

Cath Polito, director of the UT Center for Lifelong Engineering Education, said this program is set up for working professionals who are not able to attend class at regular class times. Two days of missed class is equivalent to about a month’s worth of class, or sixteen hours of lecture, she said. The Center for Lifelong Engineering Education offers master’s degrees in engineering for people who are working full-time and offers continuing education courses for engineers, as well as a online degree in software engineering.

“What we are finding is that people want to come back for a master’s degree but the challenge is that they can’t come to UT for the traditional hours because they also have to work full-time,” Polito said.

Mechanical engineering professor Steven Nichols said adding an online capability to a ten-year-old master’s program is a good resource for students located all over the world looking to complete a master’s degree.

“Students will see other students as if they are in the room, ask questions and receive assignments as everyone else does,” Nichols said. “They are about as personally in the room as one can make it.”

Nichols has taught other classes at the University using this same approach. The McCombs School of Business also offers a program for students to receive their master’s degree online. Students taking the class onsite and students taking the class online sit in the same classroom with the same professor. Nichols said it would not be unusual to have 15 out of 60 students taking the class online. He said both online and onsite students are required to be in class the first weekend of the semester to form team assignments.

“I used to worry about how students were going to communicate with each other if they were scattered around the world, but students are pretty good at forming connections,” Nichols said. “They form those links the first week of class and they will be in the same classes with the same students for two years. It’s not the same as being in class, but it’s pretty darn close.”

Biomedical engineer senior Dalon Stoker said online classes do not encourage communication and instead hinder students from effectively working with classmates.

“If your talking about a master’s degree, the point is to have real-world experience instead of isolating yourself from your community,” Stoker said. “You are not very successful unless you get your hands dirty.”