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UW-Oshkosh to launch automation, biomedical engineering programs aimed at bolstering workforce

UW-Stout plans to launch its own automation leadership program

A student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
A student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh works on an engineering project. The university will launch two new engineering majors. Photo Courtesy of UW-Oshkosh

The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh will launch a new automation engineering degree program in response to demand from local manufacturers.

It’s the first program of its kind in the UW System, after it received approval from the Board of Regents earlier this month. Classes will begin in the fall with the official program launch in 2024.

Automation engineering is the university’s second engineering program approved this summer, as UW-Oshkosh is also launching a biomedical engineering program this fall. And it isn’t the only university in the system to announce a new program aimed at supporting Wisconsin companies.

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Both programs stemmed from feedback from business representatives and community stakeholders throughout the Fox Valley and northeast Wisconsin, according to UW-Oshkosh Provost Ed Martini.

Feedback from manufacturers in the region showed there’s a major need for engineers as the industry continues to view automation as a key opportunity for growth, he said. A report last year from the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity — surveying 400 manufacturers from across the state — found that most manufacturing executives see automation as important to their company’s future.

From 2019 to 2021, manufacturers in northeast Wisconsin have become more engaged in creating smart automation plans, according to a 2021 report from the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance.

The report found that 97 percent of northeast Wisconsin manufacturers were investing in cybersecurity, 81 percent were investing in cloud computing and computer science, 79 percent were investing in interconnected computing systems and 79 percent were investing in automation robotics.

The industry’s shift toward technology led UW-Oshkosh to develop an automation engineering curriculum and going through the UW System’s approval process for creating a new degree program.

“It’s really based largely on the needs of the industry, the needs of the valley in particular and lining that up with our subject-matter experts on our faculty,” Martini said. “It’s not your grandpa’s manufacturing sector anymore. Two-year degrees are great, certificates are great, but we increasingly need to make sure that we’ve got more engineers, more four-year degrees.”

Greg Kleinheinz, UW-Oshkosh engineering and engineering technology department chair, said the automation engineering degree is similar to electrical engineering and computer programming with key differences.

“The programming is really, in this major, targeted toward automation and manufacturing processes,” Kleinheinz said.

In terms of the biomedical engineering major, Kleinheinz said biomedical is one of the fastest growing engineering sectors and there were no programs for it near Oshkosh.

“It was a great way to capitalize on existing programs like biology and kinesiology on campus, as well as engineering technology, to bring a high-demand program to this part of the state,” he said.

UW-Stout also received approval for an automation leadership bachelor’s program this summer from the Board of Regents, with enrollment open for the fall semester. It’s an online program for technical and community college students with an associate degree and incorporates training from the Smart Automation Certification Alliance, according to the university. UW-Stout says high school students can take college credits to begin their career path, and the program is also available to those already working in the manufacturing industry.

“Industry partners have asserted that their workforces need up-skilling in automation leadership and requested this program to fulfill that need,” Glendali Rodriguez, UW-Stout provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said in a statement.

Programs responding to industry needs are part of the mission of the UW System, Martini said. At UW-Oshkosh, he said those programs are especially important for supporting the region’s workforce, as nearly 85 percent of grads stay in the state.

“That’s really the mission of UWO — just like for other campuses in other parts of the state — is to really give students these relevant, exciting academic programs that have a clear career path and to really help provide the workforce that the region needs,” Martini said.