Growth in the face of cuts
Engineering & Mines generating more revenue, programs through strategic planning and engaging external sources
North Dakota has been really fortunate, said Hesham El-Rewini, dean of the College of Engineering & Mines. The state – and UND – avoided the worst of the budget woes experienced by most other states and state universities caused by the economic downturn over the last eight years.
“For eight years, we didn’t feel what the rest of the country went through,” said El-Rewini. “During that time, most public universities suffered from shrinking state support,” he said, even while costs increased.
He figured correctly that sooner or later North Dakota and UND would also experience those challenges.
A strong believer in strategic planning, El-Rewini put together a proactive plan that focuses on growth, entrepreneurship and partnerships with industry and alumni.
And even though more cuts are expected, he plans to generate more revenue and grow the College in strategic areas.
“We must depend on ourselves and try to succeed despite challenges,” El-Rewini said.
The College of Engineering and Mines has seen unparalleled success over the last 10 years, nearly doubling enrollment. Of the 2,000 additional UND students in the last 10 years, 1,200 of those have enrolled in engineering programs.
And as UND moves away from traditional budgeting processes, which heavily rely on historical data to make projections, toward more incentive-based budgeting that gives colleges the benefit of increased revenue under the MIRA model, the College of Engineering & Mines has led the way — showing the more it grows, the less it has to cut.
Most importantly, through it all, the College will continue to pay attention to quality and ensure a high-quality education even with its growth, El Rewini said.
Growth and entrepreurship
El-Rewini also wanted to be entrepreneurial. In addition to adding a major in petroleum engineering – the only such program in the state – the College continued offering fully accredited distance education degrees in all engineering majors.
“It’s unique,” El-Rewini said. “We bring programs to students who wouldn’t otherwise have access. Students get a very rigorous, meaningful lab experience during the summer. They experience our campus and meet the faculty.”
The distance program, he said, has grown 130 percent.
When the petroleum engineering program, which had previously experienced exponential growth, had a slight enrollment decrease, they added master’s and doctoral degrees in petroleum engineering. More than 20 graduate students are now enrolled, many with tuition paid by industry and other entities.
“When industry has tough times, people go back to school,” he said.
As the College moves forward, it is shifting growth to selected graduate programs and expanding online offerings in areas of demand, such as energy engineering, UAS engineering and biomedical engineering.
“These are our strengths,” El-Rewini said, “and we need to expand them.” He added that this will increase the number of graduate students who pay full tuition and fees.
“We are also targeting a different audience: one that works full time,” he said. “We need to strike a good balance between tuition payers and those who receive research and teaching assistantships.” The College is also expanding short courses and certificate programs, desired by industry and generate more revenue.
Partnerships bring growth
Along with growing programs, the College seeks to actively engage donors and partnerships with industry.
“We can’t succeed without partnerships with alumni, industry and the community,” said El-Rewini, adding that the College has raised more than $43 million since 2008.
“Even in a downturn, not everything is down,” said Andy Bjerke, director of development for the College of Engineering and Mines at the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, who credits former development director Dan Muus for previous donations from oil magnate Harold Hamm and Hess Corp.
“For example, though oil revenues have declined, the stock market is at an all-time high,” Bjerke said.
Our relationships with donors are true partnerships, said Bjerke. “Through those partnerships, we identify the projects and causes that our donors are passionate about and how they can best support them.”
“People don’t give money to places because they need it,” El-Rewini said. “They give money to strong programs that offer initiatives donors are passionate about. The matching of donors’ interests and initiatives is how we will succeed,” he said. “The donors trust that we are strong, doing the right things, and have a plan.”
It’s the people
El-Rewini has always placed his prime focus on people: the students, faculty and staff that make up his College. When people started worrying about cuts, he began holding town hall meetings and other events.
“Rumors disappear and anxiety lessens when everything’s on the table,” he said. “People get nervous and morale goes down when they don’t feel informed. We are clear, and communicate frequently, accurately and honestly.”
“Students worry, too,” El-Rewini said. On Wednesdays, he holds Tea with El-Rewini, where students, faculty and staff can talk about anything and everything, including the cuts. The students are also invited to a “Conversation with the Dean” each semester, which is recorded and put online.
“Corporations recognize that a shift in knowledge is coming, along with a new workforce. “They know the strong students we produce,” said Bjerke. “We have great students coming out of great programs. This is the next generation of the workforce.”