A Pipeline of Talent
By Valerie Vinyard
After speaking to David Hahn, you’ll be convinced that everyone should become an engineer.
“Engineers are tackling all of the significant challenges in modern society,” said the Craig M. Berge dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona. “And that is food and water, energy, healthcare and security. We do it all. Whatever you’re passionate about, we can lead you that to a career as an engineer.”
Hahn, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Louisiana State University, boasts more than two decades of experience in higher education and with national agencies and laboratories, and he is a champion of diversity in engineering.
The 58-year-old came to UArizona 2½ years ago after a 20-year career at the University of Florida, where he served as chair of mechanical and aerospace engineering. While he was there, the university built a 4,000-square-foot student design center, his department grew to the largest on campus in terms of student enrollment and the female students registered in mechanical and aerospace engineering increased to 20%.
Hahn appears to be creating an equally impressive footprint in Tucson. In just over two years at UArizona, he has seen an influx of applicants to the College of Engineering.
“To date, our applications are the highest that they’ve ever been,” said Hahn of the prospective students for Fall 2022. “We are leading the university in the year-over-year increase in number of applications.”
While that’s great news, Hahn and his team are working toward an even higher goal. He said there’s a multiyear-effort to actually double the number of students in the college. Hahn noted that the expansion of the College of Engineering has become a UArizona priority.
This five- to six-year effort will increase the number of students from 4,000 to 8,000. He said the expansion essentially will double the size of the college in enrollments, degrees produced and research enterprise.
“We have 16 engineering degree paths,” he said. “We have a great breadth of programs that meet anyone’s needs and interests.”
So, what’s the secret to his success?
“We are a very personable program that puts a lot of time in with our students, so our students succeed inside and outside of the classroom,” said Hahn, noting that a starting salary in engineering could reach six figures.
“An engineering degree from UA provides enormous opportunities to make the world a better place,” he said. “You get to have an exciting job and earn a great income. A great misconception is that engineers just sit there and do equations all day. Sure, we do math and use math as a tool, but you’re just as likely to be out in the world testing new technologies. We apply theoretical learning to solve real-world problems.”
UArizona is poised to offer an influx of quality engineering graduates to the area, which will mesh with the regional economic recovery plan, the Pivot Playbook. The playbook is a formal action plan driven by Sun Corridor Inc. to ensure that the community emerges from the pandemic able to seize on crucial opportunities. Those initiatives include providing a high-quality pool of talent, innovative workforce training and cost-effective real estate offerings.
“The University of Arizona is a gem – they’re a top-tier research institution and one of Raytheon’s key partners for decades,” said Roy Donelson, VP and COO of Raytheon Middle East North Africa Group.
“Working with the UA gives us a better perspective on the region and our nation,” Donelson said. “We’re able to learn and understand what students are thinking about. So many millennials are entering the workforce now and we’re working to increase those numbers overall, but also the number of women and other diversity groups in the workforce. Our partnership with UA is helping us do just that.”
Raytheon Missiles & Defense employs more than 30,000 employees globally, with 15,000 of those being engineers.
“Our partnership with UA has fed that talent need,” Donelson said. “We continue to hire hundreds of UA graduates and just over the last couple of years that number has continued to grow.”
To help with its goals, the UArizona has received considerable funding from the “new economy” initiative from the state legislature and the board of regents. Hahn said the College of Engineering has received about a third of the $36 million provided through the initiative.
“That initiative is all about expanding the STEM workforce and the Arizona economy, we are helping to fill that need,” he said.
Hahn noted that UArizona is not just a state institution – about a third of its students come from out of state.
“We’re promoting, advertising, and recruiting all over the United States,” he said. “We partner all over the state and all over the world. We have a summer engineering academy for high-schoolers that includes hundreds of students. We also work with the community college system.”
Agreed Donelson: “We are proud to be in Southern Arizona and partner with University of Arizona, suppliers and other organizations to promote economic development in the state. Ultimately, UA helps us with the people and innovation to provide the technology that defends our nation and allies.”
In addition to major companies, Hahn noted that there are hundreds of smaller engineering employers in the Tucson area. And in Arizona, there’s a great need for civil engineers as the states invests in infrastructure, and mining is the fifth largest industry in the state.
“We’re really trying to respond to the needs of the state,” he said. “There’s demand for all of our engineers.”
To help meet the area’s needs, Hahn said that UArizona offers a software engineering degree that just launched this year. He’s predicting 100 students will graduate with the new degree.
Of course, Hahn noted that the highest demand in the United States is for mechanical engineers, because they support so many different industries.
“You can work in a power plant, or work on just about anything you can see or touch,” he said.
I think as an engineer, you can work just about anywhere in the world that you like.”