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Sparking Excitement: Introducing Electrical Engineering at SAU

Dr. Ron Delap

After two exciting years of planning and preparation, Spring Arbor University launched the electrical engineering program in the fall of 2019. The addition of this major goes beyond just responding to the industry demand for engineers; it speaks to The Concept, SAU’s mission statement, that calls its community of learners to be critical participants in the contemporary world. In order for SAU to continue to engage the world, it must equip its students to influence and shape all facets of the world, including new areas of work and study.

Strengthening and developing new academic programs like electrical engineering will help to fulfill SAU’s four-year Strategic Plan to create Master Learners, Vibrant Christians and Global Participants. In the Strategic Plan, SAU President Dr. Brent Ellis and academic leadership have prioritized growth within the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Launching electrical engineering is one of the initial steps in a comprehensive plan to improve academic offerings that will have a long-lasting impact on SAU students and graduates.

The four-year electrical engineering program is distinguished by the unique academic environment provided by SAU as well as the leadership spearheading the program. Engineering students will be stretched academically in this technical program and equipped for employment as they learn within a strong, hands-on environment that will move them quickly from theory to designing and creating. In keeping with SAU’s academic strengths, students in this program will benefit from smaller class sizes with high levels of engagement with faculty, a strong foundation in the liberal arts, classroom integration of faith and learning and an international Cross Cultural Studies requirement. Students will work on 3-D printers, state-of-the-art design programs and brand-new laboratory equipment that graduates will go on to use in their careers.

With the new engineering major comes the introduction of a new Department of Engineering, of which Dr. Ronald DeLap will serve as chair. DeLap also serves as the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. He comes to SAU with an extensive background as a practicing engineer and as a leader of highly successful university-level engineering programs.

DeLap exhibits energy and commitment in every interaction. With this energy driving him, DeLap will utilize his 40 years of combined practice to shape and mentor each student. DeLap’s experience includes roles as a technical electrician, working in the Air Force designing satellite radio systems and control systems for fighter planes, serving in the mission field in the Dominican Republic and working in the automotive industry at Delphi. Prior to coming to SAU, Delap served at LeTourneau University in Texas, as the Dean of the School of Engineering & Engineering Technology. During his time at LeTourneau, Delap helped grow the undergraduate programs by 30 percent, increased their U.S. News and World Report ranking from 79 to 31 and significantly increased funded research.

DeLap has a profound confidence that leaves those around him excited for what the future holds. He is assured that engineering students at SAU will excel. Given the small class size, faculty members will have the opportunity to know their students well and become directly involved with the learning process. “Research shows that a better engineering program will come from a small program that is focused primarily on the undergraduate degree. We are a liberal arts university, and students will have a much broader education than someone at a technical school,” says DeLap. “Students will be successful in leadership roles as they are asked to lead and manage diverse teams.”

DeLap is eager and excited to help jump-start engineering at SAU. However, what most excites him is equipping students to be critical participants in the contemporary world. “Engineers build things that affect people’s lives in profound ways; they have the privilege and responsibility of developing and keeping God’s creation,” he says. “Our engineering students will have a unique, God-given calling to serve in ways that address the brokenness of a fallen world. We have designed our program from the ground up so that SAU students will acquire the technical skills needed to be outstanding engineers while developing a mindset focused on service to God and honoring his creation.”

DeLap’s commitment and passion for this program is evident as he engages with families and students interested in engineering at SAU. DeLap says he is looking for pioneers—students with the drive and passion to blaze a new trail with him at SAU. “I’m looking for strong candidates who will commit themselves to this endeavor. This program will be challenging, but it will also be rewarding — academically, spiritually and professionally,” says DeLap.

The implementation of the electrical engineering program comes at the perfect time for students looking for jobs within engineering in Michigan and beyond: The demand for engineers in Michigan is increasing and the supply of engineers for current jobs is declining. According to General Motors VP Mark Reuss, the U.S. suffers labor shortages in STEM fields. The U.S. Labor Bureau of Statistics states that 140,000 new engineering jobs will be added to the labor force over the 2016-2026 decade, with Michigan positioned as the fourth-highest employer for electrical engineers.

Discussions to add the electrical engineering program began in 2017. These discussions were spearheaded by Dr. Carol Green, Vice President for Academic Affairs. Green joined the university in 2017 and has sought to innovate how SAU offers programs and refine processes to support students and grow program offerings to meet the demands of employers.

“We are excited to have engineering as an option for our students. The program has been developed to join engineering expertise with our excellence in the liberal arts, which should result in engineers with an incredibly strong mix of technical and interpersonal skills,” says Green.

“We have seen interest in engineering increase over the past five years. To continue meeting the needs of college-bound students, we must continually evaluate our major offerings and ensure that we have broad and diverse curricular programming that appeals to students in many different areas. We are excited to feature engineering as the most recent addition and look forward to continued growth in the coming years,” says Jon Bahr, Vice President of Enrollment and Marketing.

The addition of the electrical engineering program will benefit the SAU community as well as the surrounding community. Through his experience in teaching engineering, DeLap has noted that engineering students are often musically and artistically inclined. “The liberal arts focus at SAU will allow engineering students to participate in a wide variety of co-curricular and extracurricular activities within art and music,” DeLap says. In addition to this, DeLap has hopes to connect engineering students with surrounding high school robotics teams for mentorship opportunities.

Upon graduation, electrical engineering students at SAU will be prepared to enter the workforce with the skills, knowledge and creativity they’ll need to succeed in their high-demand profession. During their courses, they will learn to design, build, maintain and improve devices that meet industry needs and positively impact society and the broader creation.

DeLap has hired engineers in the past and has designed this program based on his own experiences with new graduates. “I want to graduate engineers who are ready to go to work on day one, because they already have deep technical knowledge coupled with strong hands-on design-build experience. The advantage of a great liberal arts backbone will mean our graduates will communicate well and will have a broad, faith-based worldview. I want to graduate engineers who anyone in the industry would be excited to hire, and that is exactly what we are going to do, by the grace of God and for his glory,” says DeLap.

In the fall of 2018, SAU began the process of seeking accreditation for the new engineering program from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). On April 15, the HLC approved SAU’s request to offer an electrical engineering major as an accredited institute of higher education, effectively adding the program to the broader 10-year accreditation SAU received from the HLC in 2018.

The SAU engineering program is constructed around a curriculum that will qualify for application for accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). SAU intends to apply for ABET accreditation for the Bachelor of Science in Engineering program at the first available opportunity, once the first class of SAU engineering students graduates in 2023. Given that DeLap has successfully led five ABET accreditation efforts throughout his career, electrical engineering at SAU is in good hands.