Engineering department offers new chemical emphasis

Eric Rowe-Staff Writer

Dordt’s newest engineering concentration, chemical engineering, differs from other emphases not by a change in fundamentals, but “a change in focus,” says Engineering Department Chair, Ethan Brue. The class of 2017 is the first class of Dordt students to be given the option to graduate as chemical engineers.

The possibility of a chemical emphasis has been discussed for 10 years during Engineering  Department meetings. Interest expressed by students and prospective students influenced the board’s discussion. Engineering professor, Nolan Van Gaalen, says that the department sensed “a small but significant, growing demand for [chemical engineering].”

The challenge in officially offering a chemical engineering discipline was whether the need for a new program was worth redirecting resources, such as labs and classes. However, because of the multi-disciplinary nature of Dordt’s engineering program, 80%-90% of the classes needed for a Chemical emphasis already existed: “We were teaching what we needed to teach. We just needed a little bit more,” said Brue.  In order to facilitate the new emphasis, the department only had to add four classes and modify another.

New classes include reactor design and process control. Though these classes are intended for chemical engineering students, they are open to all disciplines. Professor Van Gaalen hopes that students in a mechanical engineering program who have the interest may benefit from “some chemical lab choice along the way.” Students interested in chemical engineering have in the past been able to graduate with an engineering major in a different discipline and a minor in chemistry and pursue a chemical engineering career.

The engineering department was well equipped to offer a chemical concentration since Professor Van Gaalen, Professor Timmer, and Professor Brue all have backgrounds in chemical engineering. “We’ve run a mechanical engineering program with chemical engineer professors,” said Brue. Professor Van Gaalen also thinks that the chemical background  of his colleagues is a benefit: “we want to take that experience and bring it into the program.”

The chemically inclined professors are looking forward to and planning the new classes that will be up and running in 2015, the junior year for entering freshmen. Van Gaalen says that they are “designing details” for the new chemically focused courses, are “aware of textbooks available in those fields,” and are “hoping for good qualified students to jump on board.”

The focus of chemical engineering is on producing something. A chemist in a lab might discover that a material has a certain property. The chemical engineer then creates a process to turn that material it into a product. They may also design ways to make more product from less material.  In a way, the chemical engineer provides the building blocks that other disciplines use for their purposes.

In addition to the Chemical emphasis, Dordt has also included other cross disciplinary options for engineers who are in between the four core disciplines of electrical, civil, mechanical, and chemical engineering.

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