Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal speaks at a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the Engineering Education and Research Building on Friday.

Hundreds of people crammed into the Engineering Education and Research Building for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on the $105 million facility, a building aimed to bring the University of Wyoming’s engineering program up to Tier 1 status, a somewhat loose term used by outside observers like the Carnegie Foundation describe the nation’s top engineering schools.

The building opened for classes this fall and was constructed under budget.

This week, trustees voted to remit to the state of Wyoming $1.6 million in unexpended funds that the Legislature had appropriated for the facility.

Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, who sat on the task force that culminated in the new building’s construction, spoke at the Friday groundbreaking and urged UW not to become complacent in its Tier 1 ambitions.

“The focus at the outset (of the task force) was what we were going to do in the building,” he said. “There are marvelous things that can be done in this building, but they can only be done if we decide, collectively as a state that we’re going to put the emphasis on it. … The need for (engineering) excellence at the university is directly related to what our economy is going to be moving forward.”

The opening of the new building comes as Michael Pishko, the dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, told his staff this week that he’ll be stepping down for health reasons at the end of September.

Now that the building’s open, Pishko told the Laramie Boomerang this week that UW now needs to invest in engineering professors.

“Where we really need to go now is investing in the next generation of faculty,” he said. “We’re looking for entirely different types of faculty than we’ve had in the past, for example, professors of practice. We just hired our first professor of blockchain technology, and we need more professors in areas like artificial intelligence.”

Pishko said the college could use about 20 new engineering faculty in the next few years.

Before the ribbon-cutting, a few speakers praised Pishko for helping craft educational concepts for the building, like the interdisciplinary nature of the facility that aimed at fostering collaboration among students and faculty from different academic fields.

For example, the building includes the Center for Design Thinking, a two-floor wing that’s aimed at getting engineering students to develop attractive designs for a product.

“If you think about any kind of consumer product, you have a economic viability piece, a technical feasibility piece and then the last part, that companies like Apple have mastered, is consumer desirability,” Pishko said. “Teaching design is critically important to students, particularly in this age of rapidly advancing technology.”

The vision also came from discussions between Amy Banic, a computer science professor, and Brandon Gellis, a visual arts professor, who started a “design thinking” seminar last year and now jointly run the Center for Design Thinking.

“Brandon and I were both thinking about how we could integrate cross-disciplinary curriculum so where we can have science and engineering combined with art and design,” Banic said. “What this center allows us to do is just that — to develop those types of curriculum. … The space is set up to do active-learning and so students can come in for workshops.”

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