When Luke Gile (SFS ’18) was deciding on college last year, Georgetown seemed to have everything he wanted. Everything, that is, but an engineering program.
“I’ve wanted to go to Georgetown ever since I was little and it was kind of a deal breaker for me when they didn’t offer engineering. Every other school that I applied to was an engineering school,” Gile said.
Georgetown has never offered its own engineering program. The closest thing it offers is a dual-degree engineering program, in which participants spend three or four years at Georgetown College pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree, then two years at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree.
This program was the deciding factor that brought Gile, who is interested in mechanical engineering, to Georgetown.
“When I found out that Georgetown had this Columbia program, I was set on Georgetown,” Giles said.
The Fate of Engineering
The lack of an engineering school at Georgetown is not surprising considering the university’s tradition in liberal arts education, according to associate professor of physics Mak Paranjape, who is a founder and current advisor of the dual-degree program.
“Historically speaking, this is a liberal arts education institution. It’s not a technical institution,” Paranjape said.
College Dean Chester Gillis said the liberal arts tradition is not a mark against Georgetown as an institution of higher education.
“People will come to Georgetown [because] we have strengths in [certain areas],” Gillis said. “Every university has their niche. You can’t do everything for everybody at every university.”
According to Gillis, the university has no current plans to create an engineering program outside of the dual-degree option.
“It’s a very significant investment to build an engineering school financially,” Gillis said. “The labs and facilities are very costly. Hiring the faculty is costly. And where would we put it? Where is the space? Where would we put an engineering school?”
However, many faculty members yearn for an engineering school at Georgetown.
“It’s a glimmer in our eye,” Science Interdisciplinary Chair Jeffrey Urbach said of a future engineering school at Georgetown. “It’s a challenge to do that in a time of constrained resources. We would need a major initiative and a lot of support, so it’s not something that could happen easily and quickly.”
The Dual Degree Program
The engineering dual-degree program is not unique to Georgetown. One hundred and three universities across the country collaborate with Columbia to offer such a program, which is the first of its kind in the country.
In the past three years, only seven students have fulfilled the program’s requirements at Georgetown. Currently, an average of one or two students matriculate to Columbia through the program per year. Students apply to the program in their junior or senior year. To fulfill the Georgetown academic requirements, students must complete all general education requirements and nine pre-engineering courses, in addition to requirements within their specific intended engineering major at Columbia.
Gillis said that the program is a unique combination of liberal arts education and engineering skills.
“It gives them the benefit of a Georgetown education … in our strengths in the humanities and the liberal arts and the social sciences, then Columbia’s expertise in the engineering piece,” Gillis said.
College Assistant Dean Edward Meyertholen, who is the dual-degree program’s curriculum liaison, said most students who initially express interest in the program do not sustain their interest.
Anneke Von Seeger (COL ’17) decided against the program because of the difficulty of transferring to a new school.
“[The prospect of] leaving Georgetown after three years [turned me away],” Von Seeger said. “You’d be going to Columbia basically as a junior transfer, which … would be kind of a rough transition.”
Physics major and dual-degree candidate Ryan Eagan (COL ’15) — no relation to the author — is currently a computer engineering major at Columbia.
“I think you have to be very sure that engineering is for you because you will certainly miss Georgetown when you leave,” Eagan wrote in an email to The Hoya.
All seven students who enrolled in the program in the past three years chose to pursue the 3-2 combined program, receiving a B.A. at Georgetown after three years of study, then a B.S. at Columbia after two, as opposed to completing four years at Georgetown before attending Columbia.
Martha Koroshetz (COL ’10), who graduated the program with a B.S. degree from Columbia in 2011, said that the program offered a variety of courses.
“I believe my 3-2 [program] made sure the classes I took were interesting but varied, which was ideal for me in order to know what I was capable of and what I liked best about my major,” Koroshetz wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Rankings and Post-Graduate Destinations
Although the dual-degree program provides participants with a holistic education, the absence of an engineering department at Georgetown may affect the university’s reputation and post-graduation destinations.
Of the U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 list of the top 20 universities in the country, which considers 16 different indicators of academic excellence, all schools have full-fledged engineering programs.
Georgetown, tied at number 21 with Emory University, is the highest-ranked university without its own engineering program.
U.S. News and World Report Data Research Director Robert Morse said that while the presence of an engineering school could affect a university’s ranking in a number of ways, it is not a determining factor.
“If a [university] … [has] an engineering school and it is successful, it could impact their ranking because of their reputation or other student body issues,” Morse said. “But the simple fact of having an engineering school is [not] the reason why these schools are in the top 20.”
In addition, Morse said an engineering program could negatively affect a school’s ranking.
“Engineering is a more rigorous curriculum and it may impact the graduation and retention rates, which could have a negative factor in the ranking,” Morse said.
The lack of an engineering school also explains the low number of Georgetown graduates entering engineering jobs.
A 2013 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce revealed that eight of the top 10 highest-paid college majors are in engineering.
In the Cawley Career Center’s annual post-graduation report for the Class of 2014, two of the 1,257 total respondents reported jobs in engineering or architecture, while four reported jobs in manufacturing or production and one in biotechnology.
Applied Sciences at Georgetown
Although Georgetown lacks an engineering degree, it offers opportunities in applied sciences, similar to those in an engineering school, through classroom experiences and research.
The university houses the Georgetown Nanoscience and Microtechnology Lab, a clean-room facility located on the ground level of Regents Hall with specialized equipment for undergraduate, graduate and professional research.
GNuLab Director Makarand Paranjape said the lab is similar to those in engineering schools, and that its presence reflects Georgetown’s commitment to applied science.
“This type of lab is commonly seen in an engineering school,” Paranjape said. “Georgetown made an investment [for this lab] even though we don’t have an engineering school because the things we do here are very application-related.”
However, Arjun Gupta (COL ’17), a candidate for the dual degree, said Georgetown should have more engineering options.
“When it comes to the engineering and building and creating … I don’t think that it necessarily needs to change, I just think that it needs to give students the option of exploring some of these things,” Gupta said.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.