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Ph.D. in mechanical engineering to start in August

SDSU is offering a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering
South Dakota State will hold its first classes this fall for students to earn a doctor of philosophy in mechanical engineering.

A doctor of philosophy in mechanical engineering degree has been in the works for some time at South Dakota State University’s Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering. The degree program starts when classes begin in August.

According to professor Kurt Bassett, who leads the Department of Mechanical Engineering, plans and preparations have been underway for at least 10 years.

The mechanical engineering department had students pursuing doctorates in agricultural, biosystems and mechanical engineering, in conjunction with the agricultural and biosystems engineering department.

“It takes a while to get the pieces in place to support a program, such as the required number of faculty to make it happen. We needed to get additional faculty positions in place and have a sustained record of faculty success with externally funded research,” Bassett said. “The combined program with ag and biosystems gave us a starting boost, and now we’re able to show we can operate independently.”

The doctor of philosophy in mechanical engineering degree prepares students for careers in industry and academia.

“As part of our proposal, we conducted research on the employment opportunities graduates can expect. One national employer survey showed a fairly substantial increase in the number employers looking for people with advanced degrees, particularly in research and development-type work,” Bassett said.

“There are opportunities for people to go in either the academic or industry direction. We continue to see more and more companies wanting people with advanced training and a specialization of knowledge in things such as computational fluid dynamics, finite element analysis and the advanced techniques for modeling and simulation,” he continued.

The degree program also allows students pursuing a doctorate at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to take courses and use laboratories at SDSU, and vice versa.

“The idea behind that is to make use of resources at both institutions as efficiently as possible,” Bassett said.

Bassett said three students will enter the program this fall and others could join. He expects the SDSU program to have seven or eight students pursuing these degrees and to graduate two students each year, similar to the numbers at regional universities offering the degree.

“The real value for our faculty is the program allows students to get involved on a research project for a longer term,” he said. “By the time a master’s student gets really involved or really successful on a research product, it’s time to graduate. A Ph.D. student will probably be involved for three or four years, so they will have the opportunity to get deeper in research and be more productive in terms of publishing results and supporting externally sponsored works.”

The additional support for research will allow SDSU to pursue more opportunities.

“One of the key things for the university is this degree program gives faculty a better platform to do the work they want to do when making proposals to funding agencies or firms,” Bassett said. “Having the Ph.D. program in place is significant from the point of view of sponsors because it indicates the level of activity is going to be sustainable for a period of time, they have a little more confidence the institution will be able to follow through on the promises made in terms of research capability and output.”

The doctorate degree is one of what could be several such programs in the Lohr College of Engineering, according to Dean Bruce Berdanier. The college recently developed a philanthropy placemat to visualize its strategic plan and how adding the doctorate degree will enable it to reach its goals.

“This new Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering fulfills part of the Lohr College of Engineering’s strategic action plan. This is a partial fulfillment of our commitment to the university strategic plan to grow our resources supporting research. We are very excited to have accomplished this significant milestone,” Berdanier said.