Nuclear Engineering’s Growth Highlighted

UT’s Nuclear Engineering Department has climbed from the twelfth-ranked program in US News and World Report to the fifth-ranked in just four years.

One of the reasons why: the amount of research conducted in the department.

That was a key point College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis and department head Wes Hines shared with the UT Board of Trustees Wednesday.

Investment in research almost quadrupled from 2008 to 2013, climbing from $2.1 million to $8.2 million over that span.

In that same period, the department has grown from seven tenure-track faculty members to sixteen—three of whom are Governor’s Chairs.

The number of bachelor’s degrees earned has also doubled from twenty-eight to fifty-six over that same time. The number of master’s degrees awarded went from fourteen to twenty-five and doctoral degrees almost tripled, from twenty-one to sixty-one.

“Really, Governor’s Chairs allowed us to do this,” said Hines. “Before, you had seven faculty members trying to teach all of the courses, which didn’t leave a lot for research. With the addition of all the faculty, we can spread the load out and, in turn, that leaves a lot more time for research.”

UT’s total nuclear engineering enrollment is now 339 students between all levels, second to only Texas A&M, and its number of master’s students is the highest in the country.

All of those factors have helped the department achieve its Top Five goal well ahead of the self-established 2017 deadline, but Davis said one obstacle remains before it can climb higher: facilities.

“We have the number-four public nuclear engineering department in a building that was the original power plant for the campus in 1925,” said Davis.

Davis highlighted that the department had the highest average grade point average and mathematics score on the ACT—4.06 and 32, respectively—of any public school in the state or in the Southeastern Conference.

The problem, Davis continued, is that at some point bringing parents of those students into Pasqua Hall, where the department is housed, or to Estabrook Hall, which was built in 1898 and houses the freshman engineering program, begins to run the risk of alienating the very people UT hopes to attract.

“That aspect is the single biggest challenge in the College of Engineering,” said Davis.

The presentation highlighted that plans to upgrade both facilities are on the table, with $12 million in private funds already secured toward the project, but that state funding is needed for the effort to move forward.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)

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