VCU College of Engineering announces an expansion of its academic opportunities with the addition of six new minors: artificial intelligence, aerospace engineering, nuclear engineering, software engineering, cybersecurity and data science.
These minors will be available beginning in the 2024-25 school year.
“The College of Engineering at VCU is undergoing transformational changes to offer unique and exciting experiences to our students,” Azim Eskandarian, DSc, Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean for the College of Engineering, said. “Among these critical changes are six new minor programs, enhancing the student experience and serving the regional and national engineering industry with a much-needed, expertly-trained workforce. With an emphasis on AI education, we are fulfilling industry demand across the state of Virginia and throughout the U.S.”
The newly added minors cover an array of cutting-edge disciplines, intending to broaden the spectrum of our student’s education and transdisciplinary approach to engineering. These minors reflect the college's commitment to preparing students for the many opportunities and challenges that await the future of engineering.
The new artificial intelligence (AI) minor is intended to meet the demands of the rapidly growing AI technologies industry. This minor will facilitate student understanding of how AI is utilized and applied in their specific engineering fields and incorporate AI into their engineering work.
“Any engineering student can complete the minor in AI by wisely selecting their general elective and mathematics courses with the addition of one to two courses, depending on their major,” Caroline Budwel, Ph.D., associate professor and undergraduate director of the Department of Computer Science said.
The required courses needed to complete this minor cover the essentials of AI technology, with a selection of courses that delve into topics such as machine learning, natural language processing and the ethical considerations of AI.
The aerospace engineering minor will benefit any engineering student interested in designing and developing aircraft and spacecraft.
“The minor in aerospace engineering is for students interested in jobs related to the design, manufacture and testing of airplanes, helicopters, drones, rockets, spacecraft or satellites,” John Speich, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering said.
Mechanical engineering students can complete this minor without adding additional credits by selecting aerospace courses to fulfill three of their restricted electives.
“These students will combine the broadly applicable mechanical engineering degree with three or more courses focused on their specific area of interest within aerospace engineering,” Speich said.
The minor in nuclear engineering is intended for students outside of the mechanical and nuclear engineering department.
“This minor is designed to help students in other departments to hybridize their curriculum with the fundamentals of nuclear science and technology,” Supathorn Phongikaroon, Ph.D., professor and director of nuclear engineering programs, said. “The minor in nuclear engineering consists of 21-22 credits that allows students to complete this minor within their four-year college degree planning.”
This minor will encompass topics on environmental sustainability, nuclear reactor theory and radiation safety, with additional avenues to further customize this minor to the student’s interest.
A minor in software engineering gives students the necessary skills to analyze, design and implement computing-based solutions within an organizational framework. This minor is intended for students outside of the Department of Computer Science, allowing students to broaden their skills to include the fundamentals of software engineering.
“This minor will train students for jobs that require an understanding of software engineering techniques,” Preetam Ghosh, Ph.D., interim chair of the Department of Computer Science, said. "Students will gain an understanding of software lifecycles, architecture and design patterns; agile software development; maintenance and testing methodologies; as well as expressing requirements of software systems and collaborating in large software development teams."
Required courses for this minor teach students about programming, data structures, software analysis and the design and implementation of user interfaces.
The new minor in cybersecurity intends to meet the growing demand and evolving threats of the cybersecurity industry, preparing students with a comprehensive, computing-oriented background. Students outside of the computer science department will gain foundational white hat hacking skills with corresponding detection and defense techniques against cybercrime.
“These skills center around identifying the root cause of cyber-attacks, securing vulnerable services, configuring firewall rules, basic forensic skills and cyber ethics to distinguish between legitimate and criminal behaviors,” Ghosh said.
A minor in data science is geared towards students who wish to gain the theoretical knowledge, programming skills and tools necessary to analyze and interpret complex data to help solve real-world problems. This minor benefits both computer science and non-computer science students by teaching core abilities and expanding on the current data science curriculum.
The goal of this new minor is to keep up with the exponentially growing demand for data scientists within the engineering industry.
“Data science is an interdisciplinary field that combines expertise in statistics, computer science, and domain-specific knowledge to extract valuable insights and knowledge from data,” Ghosh said.
Laura Lemza, director of VCU Career Services in the College of Engineering, says opting for a minor not only enables students to cultivate skills highly coveted by employers, but also positions them strategically for success in job interviews where they can effectively showcase these acquired competencies.
“As our students enter the workforce, showcasing an interdisciplinary minor relating to industry needs is a huge conversation starter,” Lemza said. “These minors add skills that our employers are looking for and will be a great way for students to show that they’re serious about their career pathway.”