The magazine for Western Washington University

Strengthening STEM

New programs in sciences, technology meet state's needs

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Western's Institute for Energy Studies is one of the first of its kind in the nation. | Photo by Chris Linder
Casey Shillam, director of the Nursing Academic Program | Photo by Matthew Anderson (

Engineering, Computer Science, Nursing and Energy Studies are among several new and expanding programs at Western Washington University meant to address the state’s need for more highly trained graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“For years, many leaders in Washington have recognized that our state needed to address a widening deficit in science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in our work force,” says Western President Bruce Shepard.

As a result the state Legislature recently provided new funds to Western, as well as the University of Washington and Washington State University, to produce more engineering and computer science graduates.

At Western, the funds will help transform the successful Engineering Technology program into a full Engineering degree. Once the transition is complete, Western will have the only Electrical Engineering program in the state with a focus on embedded systems.

The other Engineering degrees will be distinctive, as well: Western’s Plastics Engineering program will be the only such program west of Minnesota. And the Manufacturing Engineering program will be the only one in the state, and one of just two in the Pacific Northwest.

New state funding will also boost Western’s Computer Science program, more than doubling the number of computer science graduates.

Meanwhile, Western’s Woodring College of Education is launching a program for nurses to complete their bachelor’s degrees in nursing. Studies show patients fare better in facilities cared for with higher percentages of nurses with BSNs. But only about 50 percent of the state’s nursing work force has a baccalaureate degree – and less than half in Whatcom, Skagit and Island counties.

Finally, Western’s new Institute for Energy Studies, one of the first of its kind in the nation, recently received $150,000 from Alaska Airlines and another $100,000 from the Ingersoll Rand Foundation and Trane. The gifts will support the interdisciplinary program combining science, technology, business and policy to prepare leaders and entrepreneurs for the new energy economy.

Other new interdisciplinary programs at Western include:

• A bachelor’s degree in Business and Sustainability, an interdisciplinary effort between the College of Business and Economics and Huxley College of the Environment. The pioneering program includes foundation courses in economic analysis, environmental science and policy, and business management.

• A minor in Education and Social Justice, a collaboration of Woodring and Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Each of the new programs is grounded in Western’s strong academic core in liberal arts and sciences, Shepard says. “In an increasingly complex world,” he says, “the value of a liberal arts education has never been more relevant.”