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UW-Stout looks to add computer engineering degree

The University of Wisconsin-Stout is hoping to add a computer engineering degree program.

"This is a logical extension of our engineering effort and clearly is an essential part of our mission to serve this region of the state," said Charles Sorensen, UW-Stout chancellor.

The Education Committee of the UW-Board of Regents will take up the proposal on Aug. 21 in Madison. The full board is scheduled to vote on the implementation Aug. 22.

UW-Stout officials say this is the final step in a long process of review and approvals for the computer engineering plan.

UW System President Kevin Reilly supported it by including it in his Growth Agenda submission for the 2007-09 state budget. The Legislature accepted that recommendation and passed it in the 2007-09 state budget, including funding for two new positions and equipment.

Finally, Gov. Jim Doyle endorsed the project by signing the state budget that included the funding and positions.

UW-Stout officials estimate that the program will produce 30 graduates a year by the sixth year of its existence.

The program will be included in the new College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The program will emphasize the design of hardware and software for engineering systems that utilize embedded digital processors such as microprocessors, microcontrollers, digital signal processors and personal computers.

Embedded digital processors are in nearly every device containing electronic components, including mobile phones, automobiles, traffic signals, factory automation systems and computer network routers.

"The degree will have a strong computer hardware focus, and we already have most of the dedicated equipment, laboratory space and the faculty required for such a degree," said Richard Rothaupt, interim dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

"We have the jobs in the region, but we don't have the graduates," he added.

Rick Chapek, vice president of engineering for SGI in Chippewa Falls, said the new major would "be an incredible asset to the west-central portion of Wisconsin, as it would provide the area computer industry with local graduates with expertise in computer engineering."

Chapek noted that the program also would be valuable to SGI and other high-tech firms by providing "fresh career development opportunities for our own employees (non-traditional students) looking to enhance their academic credentials, core competencies and positions within SGI."

SGI manufactures high-performance computers and other devices. It employs about 1,600 people company-wide. Its corporate offices are in California with its manufacturing operations in Chippewa Falls.

Politicians who supported the program say that with such a program at UW-Stout students won't have to go to Minnesota and it will help keep talent here.

"We risk long-term loss of talent to other markets when Wisconsin students are forced to leave for lack of options at home," said Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton.