This fall marks a major milestone for the College: For the first time in its 250-year history, CofC will offer a major in engineering. Thirty-six students are enrolled to receive a bachelor of science in systems engineering – the first of its kind in South Carolina.

“Over the last 10 years, the Charleston tri-county area has evolved into a high-tech manufacturing center,” says Sebastian van Delden, dean of the School of Sciences and Mathematics, who oversees the program. “As the local public university, we have the responsibility of providing talent to
our economy.”

Indeed, engineers from Boeing, Bosch, Mercedes-Benz and others helped design the curriculum, while an industrial advisory board will help ensure that it remains relevant to industry needs. Systems engineers take a macro view of a project and are responsible for the concept, architecture and design.

“Systems engineering is a rigorous degree program that appeals to technically minded students who enjoy building and modeling complex projects and systems,” says Narayanan Kuthirummal, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and director of the Systems Engineering Program. “Modern engineering projects are large and complex, increasing the demand for systems engineers.”

But what will make CofC grads even more in demand is the school’s strong liberal arts education, which all engineering majors will get, too, just like everyone else.

“Engineers have to be able to work effectively in different environments with a variety of people from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds,” says van Delden. “Our graduates will be a little different from the traditional engineering school in that our students should have better communication skills to be able to integrate into these schemes while also be thinking about the broader, global context of what they’re trying to do.”

Next fall, the College will also start offering a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, with more to follow hopefully. (CofC offered a few engineering classes in the early 1900s but not a degree.)

The dream is a new School of Engineering on Pitt Street next to the library. The 40,000-square-foot building would also house the Department of Computer Science, which now rents space at Harbor Walk.

Of course, it helps to have a new president who is an engineer himself.

“I am excited to see engineering launched here at the College of Charleston,” says President Andrew T. Hsu, who earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. “There is so much possibility, especially with our unique liberal arts curriculum, to help shape and train a new type of engineer – one ready to tackle a wide range of issues. In my experience, engineering is a discipline that touches everything, and I think there are many opportunities for local industry to connect, partner and support this program so that we, together, continue to make Charleston one of the best cities for work and life in the country.”

Photo by Reese Moore