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Iowa State, University of Northern Iowa partner on dual degree program

Students could get UNI physics degree, ISU engineering degree in five years

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Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa on Thursday agreed to start offering a “3+2” physics and engineering degree option allowing students to earn a degree in each field from each university in five years.

“I really appreciate the collaboration,” regent Larry McKibben said Thursday during a Board of Regents meeting. “I am so proud to see the universities working together.”

ISU President Steven Leath and UNI President William Ruud on Thursday morning signed a memorandum of understanding for the new program, which will enable a typical student to spend the first three years at UNI before transferring to ISU for the final two years. Upon graduation, the student will have a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from Iowa State and a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from UNI.

The partnership stemmed from student demand and discussions among faculty at the two institutions, according to Jonathan Wickert, senior vice president and provost for Iowa State.

“There are a lot of different pathways for students to get an engineering degree,” Wickert said. “Some students start off knowing they want to be an engineer, and they’ll start as a freshman in engineering. But there’s a lot of students that start in other areas, and physics I think is probably at the top of that list.”

Changes in the workforce are behind a demand for students with training in both fields, according to Wickert.

“I think this provides a lot of opportunity for them,” he said.

A growing number of career opportunities exist in areas of research and development, where the technology is so complex that employers want students with fundamental science skills — like those developed through physics instruction — and also application abilities attained through an engineering education.

“I actually think it’s kind of exciting to have this combination, where a student will walk away with two degrees,” Wickert said.

The new degree path is now available for any interested students, and Wickert said they’ll need to meet with an adviser to map out a plan to achieve the dual degrees. UNI Provost Jim Wohlpart said officials expect to be working with students in the fall to get on track.

“One of the things I’m really interested in at the University of Northern Iowa is recruitment of new students,” he said.

The program could be ideal for students from smaller Iowa high schools who might feel more comfortable on UNI’s smaller campus for three years before transitioning to Iowa State — a much larger campus.

“So we see this as a real positive new stream of students potentially into the regent institutions,” he said.

UNI President Ruud said the new physics-engineering partnership is just the start of what he expects will be more collaboration between the three regent schools.

“It’s part of what we’re going to do more of in three-plus-twos, three-plus-three, four-plus-ones, four-plus-twos, so we can really utilize the combination efforts of our universities,” he said.

Ruud said he told ISU President Leath, “It will be a pleasure for me to see that Iowa State is going to have outstanding physics students at his institution, and he told me it’s going to be a pleasure to know he’s going to produce outstanding engineers.”

“We believe this is a win for both schools,” Leath said during Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting. “More importantly, it’s a big win for the students.”

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