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UA Engineering Class of 2019 Poised for Success

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First-year UA Engineering student Dani Spencer, a member of the Arizona Wildcats gymnastics team.
First-year Engineering student Dani Spencer, is a member of the Arizona Wildcats gymnastics team.

UA Engineering Class of 2019 Poised for Success

Nov. 20, 2015
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A gymnast for the Wildcats and the founder of a nonprofit are among the newest members of the University’s growing College of Engineering.

From the size of the freshman class to the number of degrees it confers, the University of Arizona College of Engineering is on an upswing.

“The College is growing,” said Dean Jeffrey Goldberg. “We are attracting and retaining top students and nearing an all-time high for the total number of degrees awarded.”

UA Engineering enrolled 621 freshmen in fall 2015, up 125 students from a year ago. Nearly a third of the freshmen are also enrolled in the UA Honors College.

In the 2014-2015 academic year, the College granted 719 degrees, including 485 bachelor’s, 168 master’s and 66 doctoral degrees -- all higher than the previous year.  

The total undergraduate student population in the College of Engineering stands at 2,760, with 25 percent women and 36 percent minority students.

“These percentages are well above the national averages for engineering colleges and demonstrate our commitment to diversity and student success,” Goldberg said.

Coming Attractions

“I came to the UA for both the experience and opportunities to develop as an individual,” said freshman Raymond Tang of Las Vegas. “Staying home was certainly the cheaper option, since I am a out-of-state student, but being in a new environment can help stimulate my growth.”

Jacqui Kientzler enrolled at UA Engineering because it gave her freedom to explore her academic options and grow her Arizona startup. The majority of UA Engineering freshmen do not choose a field of study until their second year.

“I loved the idea that I could come to the UA and not feel pressured to choose my engineering discipline right away,” said Kientzler, of Tucson. “What you find at many household-name colleges is that they confine you to the field you apply to at first, and push you through the program. Oftentimes this results more in a weeding-out process than an education. Here, I have the freedom to develop as a person, a scholar, an engineer. I have the freedom to define my passions.”

Kientzler, who was class valedictorian and captain of her high school volleyball team, founded a local nonprofit organization, Pause for Friends of the Paws Inc., to help homeless residents of Pima County care for their pets.

“I’ve been working on the idea since I was 11 and spent four years learning and fundraising before filing for incorporation in 2013. Since I was not yet 18, I ran into a lot of issues. In the process, I have learned the hard way about being professional, working on teams, dealing with money and having a clear plan of action. There’s been trial laced throughout, but I am passionate about this cause and continue to persevere.”

First-year student Dani Spencer also brings a precociousness and passion for helping others that will benefit the UA community.

Spencer’s been cartwheeling and doing somersaults since she was four years old and is a member of the Arizona Wildcats gymnastics team.

“UA stood out to me when I was being recruited because it provided the full package,” said Spencer, who started College this summer, days after graduating from high school in Scottsdale, Arizona, with a 4.1 GPA. “The UA offered the academic and athletic programs that I wanted -- and to top it off, the girls on the team are absolutely amazing.”

Spencer won’t start traveling with the team until January, but she’s already putting on an impressive balancing act as a student-athlete.

A typical day: “Get up at 5:30 a.m. and go to weights, do 40 minutes of homework, have breakfast and go to class. Go back to the dorm and do homework for two hours. Take a 20-minute nap, go to math class. Spend the afternoon at practice, then go to lab from 6 to 9 p.m. Go home, eat dinner.”

Spencer’s secret? “Be diligent and stay on top of things.”

Unlike most first-year students, Spencer has no doubt what she’ll major in -- biomedical engineering.

Spencer has a twin brother with severe epilepsy. “Ever since we were babies, James had seizures,” she said. “Then, four years ago, he had brain surgery and has been seizure-free since. To see someone help my brother like that -- I wanted to do the same for someone else.”

She started researching neurosurgery. Then, one Sunday night her family gathered as usual to watch “60 Minutes.”

“The show was about prosthetic limbs for veterans,” Spencer recalled. “The engineers found a way to connect neurons with the prosthetic so that a person could use their arm.  I remember going, ‘Wow! That is something I can do!’”

Innovations in Curriculum

The College of Engineering is expanding its active learning programs and degree offerings.

“This is a particularly exciting time for our undergraduate programs,” Goldberg said. “We are restructuring some of our introductory classes so students can spend more time in small sections devoted to discussion, hands-on activities and team projects.”

Such restructured classes -- like ECE 175, the required introductory course in electrical and computer engineering -- reflect the College’s and University’s commitment to active learning, particularly in the STEM fields, he said.

This fall the College also launched two new degree programs: a bachelor’s degree program in environmental engineering and a master of engineering in innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship.