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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New Mexico State University conducts engineering distance education with Boeing

In 1997, Boeing Inc. recognized that to work in the factories of the future its engineers needed to learn the latest in such fields as control theory and computer programs, said William Gray, Boeing's corporate manager for continual learning.

nationwide search, Boeing chose New Mexico State University to deliver instruction in these and other fields because of the flexible nature of the university's approach to distance education, Gray said.

For the last five years, New Mexico State has offered master's degrees in industrial or mechanical engineering to Boeing employees through the company's training centers in California, Washington state, Tennessee and Texas. So far, 18 Boeing employees have graduated from the program, said Bahram Nassersharif, head of the university's mechanical engineering department and director of the College of Engineering's distance education programs.

New Mexico State is able to deliver its instruction at Boeing's training centers, rather than requiring the employees to come to the university. In addition, it provides the lectures in a variety of media -- cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs or as downloadable presentations on the Internet. This means that, even when they must travel to fulfill their job requirements, employees have no trouble keeping up with the classes, Gray said.

"The program has been very well received, in part because the students recognize how well attuned it is to their needs," he said.

Linda Riley is the associate head of New Mexico State's industrial engineering department and one of 12 professors from the mechanical engineering and industrial engineering department and six from the College of Business who have taught in the program. She said lecturers make their presentations in classrooms outfitted with video cameras operated by technicians in New Mexico State's Center for Educational Development. Once the lectures have been videotaped, a technical staff under Nassersharif's direction converts them into the different formats.

"We give the students whatever delivery method they desire," she said. "I may use net meetings or WebCams and I've traveled to Boeing's training centers in Washington and Tennessee to teach classes face to face. If one of the students is doing an independent study or directed reading, our communication may be entirely through e-mail or by telephone," she said.

Nassersharif said professors in the program even hold Internet office hours, using both video-audio and typed-text chat rooms.

Completion of a master's degree in the program requires 31 credit hours, but includes a course-only option, a thesis option and a special projects option, he said.

The methods of preparation required for a distance education course differ markedly from those required for traditional lectures and really thorough preparation requires extra time. But, the effort is worth it, Riley said.

"You've got to script your presentation like a television program. You've got to have everything worked out and paced. You can't take up time, as you normally would in a lecture, with class participation. You start using more examples. You start looking at ways to relate the story to the audience. You use lights, sets, make up and props. You're really doing a production and not everyone is comfortable with that," she said.

"I think we all need to get familiar with these techniques," she added, "because they're the education of the future."

Jack King
Feb. 6, 2002