UNT to offer bachelor's, master's degrees in biological and environmental engineering

Friday, September 7, 2007

Demonstrating its commitment as a student-centered, public research university, the University of North Texas is taking the first steps toward establishing the first degree program in biological and environmental engineering at a Texas college or university.

The program, which will offer bachelor's and master's degrees beginning with the fall 2008 semester,  will focus on issues such as engineering applications that address climate change and sustainability. Experts on air quality will be among the first faculty to be hired for the new BEE program, says Dr. Miguel Acevedo, UNT Regents Professor of geography. Acevedo became coordinator of the new interdisciplinary program, which will be offered in UNT's College of Engineering, this month.

"The College of Engineering has been looking for innovative programs and approaches as it grows, and this is an excellent example," he says.

Acevedo says UNT provides an ideal environment for such a program to flourish in collaboration with existing programs in biology, geography, environmental science and philosophy; biomedical sciences and public health at the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth; and various other programs in the College of Engineering. Collaboration with the HSC in particular is exciting because of the potential variety of research projects, joint courses and many opportunities for a vibrant partnership for both faculty and students, he adds.

"The interdisciplinary nature of the BEE program is what makes it both attractive and a challenge,"  Acevedo says. "We have to ask ourselves, ‘How do you educate engineers with training in different disciplines?' We also have to design this program with the future in mind, looking at what is needed five or 10 years down the road."

In addition, Acevedo says strong community outreach is vital for the BEE program. He envisions the creation of an indoor and outdoor learning area at UNT's Research Park campus, home of the College of Engineering. The area would be similar to the Elm Fork Education Center in UNT's Environmental Education, Science and Technology Building, which provides instruction in environmental science to elementary school students. Acevedo says a learning area at Research Park would attract middle and high school students and get them excited about pursuing engineering as a career choice.

UNT began planning the bachelor's and master's degree program in biological and environmental engineering about two years ago. Earlier this year, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved planning for the creation of the program.

Acevedo says he expects the first students in the program to graduate in five years.

Dr. Oscar Garcia, founding dean of the UNT College of Engineering, says he is excited about the future of the new program.

"Dr. Acevedo, jointly with a small committee, is currently conducting a market study to get inputs from academic, industrial and government agencies in order to practically implement our proposal to the Coordinating Board in a manner in which our future graduates may best serve and be rewarded by their employers or in their consulting careers," Garcia says. "This study will inform our forthcoming proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for the establishment of the program and the kind of professors that we will be hiring."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108