ASHEVILLE – Engineering at a liberal arts school? You bet.
If North Carolina voters approve on March 15, $21 million from the Connect NC bond proposal will go to renovate two buildings at UNC Asheville and create collaborative space where engineering, art and management students will pursue interdisciplinary solutions to problems.1
Owen Hall is a 36-year-old building whose mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems are well past their life expectancy. The building currently houses the Art and Management departments, but officials envision a space that would add the university’s Mechatronics Engineering program to the mix.
“It’s a place of great energy,” Chancellor Mary Grant says in the accompanying video, “where students and faculty and staff come together to create, to innovate, to learn, to teach.”2
Mechatronics encompasses robotics, circuitry, problem-solving, analytics and just about anything that goes on inside the complex devices on which we increasingly rely. The program at UNC Asheville has seen a 70% increase in students just since 2012.3
“It really is the intersection of arts and engineering,” says Grant. “It’s about the creative process of problem-solving.”
An interdisciplinary approach will prepare students for workplaces where managers, engineers and designers work under the same roof, Grant says.
“In fact, the true competitive advantage of many of today’s most iconic companies – Apple, Google and Tesla Motors to name a few – lies in the daily collaboration among these disciplines. This project will allow us to replicate that environment right here on campus.”4
Art and Mechatronics students at UNC Asheville already work together to design prosthetic limbs and other assistive devices using 3-D printers.5
UNC Asheville would also use bond proceeds to renovate 49-year-old Carmichael Hall, which houses the Psychology and Neuroscience Department, a leader in undergraduate research in such complex topics as neuropsychology, sleep and aging.6
“Psychology is doing cutting-edge research with their students as a way of teaching,” Grant says.
“We can do better, deeper, more innovative work in the 21st century with these supports,” she says in the video.7
The bond proposal includes $45 million for renovations at UNC Asheville, the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem and Elizabeth City State University, as well as $10 million for renovation of the Lyons Science Building at Fayetteville State University. 8
That pales in comparison, though, to more than $2 billion in renovation and repair needs officials have identified across North Carolina’s public universities.9
Much of that work was postponed during the Great Recession. Officials say they can’t catch up through annual appropriations in the state budget.
Western Carolina University, for example, has been waiting since 2006 for $30 million to replace a boiler system that was built in the 1920s and still serves 35 buildings.10
Grant thanks state leaders for providing renovation dollars – but notes that they won’t meet all the needs.
“This is an important step in the right direction,” she said. “Everybody is aware that this doesn’t tackle all the needs across the state. But it is a down-payment.”