‘Sneak peek’ set for new facility at Biltmore Park

Western Carolina University will host a “sneak peek” Wednesday, April 16, of the soon-to-be-opened laboratories and classrooms that will enable the expansion of WCU’s undergraduate engineering program to the Asheville-Hendersonville area.

Nearly 11,000 square feet of space on the ground floor of a building located at 28 Schenck Parkway in Biltmore Park Town Square is undergoing renovations to accommodate the expanded engineering program, with classes scheduled to get underway in August.

Expansion of WCU’s engineering degree was made possible through more than $1.4 million in the state budget for the 2013-15 biennium. The N.C. General Assembly approved $698,962 for start-up costs and laboratory equipment for the 2013-14 fiscal year, with $719,844 in recurring funds to cover faculty positions and ongoing operations.

WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher, who credited N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) with ensuring that the state budget included funds for the engineering program expansion, said additional engineering education opportunities in the fast-growing corridor between Asheville and Hendersonville will help meet increasing industry and business demand for a highly qualified workforce.

Western Carolina began offering the bachelor of science degree in engineering (the BSE) in fall 2012 at its campus in Cullowhee as a new stand-alone program. The university had partnered with UNC Charlotte to jointly offer a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering (the BSEE) from 2004 until 2012.

The Biltmore Park program will primarily focus on serving working professionals and will lead to a general engineering degree that will provide the specific skills sought by regional industry partners, said James Zhang, dean of WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology.

WCU’s generalist approach to engineering offerings has a common core of mathematics and science, augmented by concentrations in specific engineering specializations. Additional engineering specializations can be created to meet the needs of the region. Because of industry demand, a new concentration in mechanical engineering was added to the Cullowhee campus offerings beginning last fall.

Western Carolina has conducted classes at a variety of sites in the Asheville area since 1937, consolidating graduate and undergraduate academic programs previously offered at locations across Buncombe County to its new Biltmore Park instructional site in August 2012. The move has expanded access to academic programming to better meet the educational needs of Western North Carolinians in the Buncombe-Henderson area and has resulted in increased operational efficiencies.

The “sneak peek” will begin with remarks by scheduled speakers Belcher, Zhang and Apodaca; Carolyn Coward, member of the WCU Board of Trustees; and representatives of the Golden LEAF Foundation, which awarded a $500,000 grant to WCU last year for the expansion of engineering education opportunities across Western North Carolina through a partnership with regional community colleges.

The event, to run from 4 until 6 p.m., will enable guests to observe renovation work at the facility, followed by a reception and optional tour of WCU’s existing instructional site at Biltmore Park.

Those interested in attending the April 16 sneak peek are asked to respond by Wednesday, April 9, to Amber McKendrick at amckendrick@wcu.edu.