No wonder, then, that Dr. Dorothy Chappell, dean of natural and social sciences, uses this word to describe recent developments at Wheaton’s Meyer Science Center: “There’s a definite momentum right now in the engineering major, with more emphasis on curriculum, personnel, and networking opportunities.”
This momentum is the response to a clearly articulated need. Students are expressing increasing interest in Wheaton’s engineering program, a unique academic path with a rich history and diverse possibilities for the future.
Wheaton’s engineering program, also known as a 3-2 program, has been in place since the 1970s. Frequently described as the “best of both worlds,” the 3-2 program allows students to meld a Christian liberal arts education from Wheaton with strong engineering training from one of the many fully accredited engineering schools around the country.
Engineering students spend their first three years on Wheaton's campus, exploring various liberal arts disciplines and interests as other Wheaton students do, while also taking foundational math, science, and engineering courses. Upon completing the three-year liberal arts portion of their study, engineering students then complete their studies at an ABET accredited engineering school. Graduates of the 3-2 program ultimately receive two degrees: a B.S. in liberal arts engineering from Wheaton and a B.S. in a chosen engineering discipline from the engineering school.
Wheaton’s engineering students have graduated from many ABET accredited schools including University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, Purdue, Michigan, and Texas A&M, among others. To date, however, more than half of Wheaton’s engineering students have benefited from the dual degree partnership with the Armour College of Engineering at Chicago-based Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). The 3-2 students who attend IIT often spend all five years living on Wheaton’s campus and commuting to their classes downtown.
For Colleen Chapman ’04, now a weight and mass properties engineer at Boeing, this partnership with IIT proved fulfilling on many levels. “The big thing that motivated me to apply to Wheaton was actually the Wade Center,” Colleen says. “I saw C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien mentioned in the catalog, and I was so excited I literally jumped up and down. And then I realized I was able to participate in IIT’s engineering program while living in a place where I could experience the beauty of God's creation and learn more about him. It just felt right. I received a well-rounded education and ultimately learned how engineering is influenced by and affects other areas of life.”
Josh Dortzbach ’96, a third generation Wheaton alumnus whose childhood in Kenya instilled a passion for cross-cultural connection, claims his time at Wheaton and IIT yielded a call to pursue urban ministry through the field of engineering.
“The Christian Service Council at Wheaton was where God grabbed my heart for the city,” Josh says. Feeling called to live among the urban poor, he and his family moved to the city 16 years ago. In addition to his commitment to urban community, Josh describes his ultimate dual degree takeaway as technical and professional excellence in the field of structural engineering and, ultimately, the vision for business as mission.
Having participated in both innovative new construction and challenging renovation projects, Josh launched his own company six years ago. Forefront Structural Engineers, Inc., has a clear purpose: to pursue excellence throughout the design process while developing new, practical ideas.
Since the start, the company’s goal has been to invest 25 percent of the profits each year into kingdom work in the city, partnering with the By the Hand Club for Kids, Hope for Chicago, and
Young Life. “We’re still defining what ‘business as mission’ means, and we’re gathering ideas about how we can contribute mind, body, and soul,” he says, noting for instance, that they’ve talked with Engineering Ministries International about possible short-term ministry opportunities.
Josh describes the benefit of his unique academic experience: “It was my IIT degree that got me my job. It’s my Wheaton degree, and the critical thinking skills that come with a liberal arts education, that help me excel at my job.”
Timothy Waldee ’88, general manager, global product quality at GE Transportation, echoes Josh’s sentiment. “I needed a broad-based education from a Christian liberal arts perspective,” Tim says. “I knew I was only at Wheaton for three years, so I took the best (sometimes hardest) classes I could find. Now I always say that the ‘3’ was for me, while the ‘2’ assured a good engineering job.”
Tim finished his dual degree at Georgia Tech, and then earned a master’s degree in manufacturing systems from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His fondest Wheaton memories include meeting his wife, Candace Malone Waldee ’88, studying History of Philosophy with Professor Arthur Holmes ’50, M.A. ’52, and gleaning C. S. Lewis’ perspective on science and technology directly from Lewis’ original letters archived in the Marion E. Wade Center.
In his previous role as general manager for GE Energy’s Energy Service & Controls manufacturing group, Tim oversaw operations in 27 factories located in eight countries, with an annual production output of $3.5 billion. “My Wheaton experience really shaped the way I think about the world and interact with others in a corporate setting,” Tim says.
In a similar vein, Paul St. Aubyn ’06, a civil engineer based in Chicago, describes the first three years as a “grounding time” that instilled a “compelling vision” of what it means to live and work as a Christian in the world.
Named a finalist in the New Faces of Engineering program by the National Society of Professional Engineers, Paul has been involved in the designing, planning, and building of water treatment plants and potable water distribution systems for more than four years.
Paul’s faith drew him toward this focus. He remembers an environmental science class in which Dr. Jeff Greenberg challenged students to consider global needs. While discussing the lack of access to clean drinking water in many parts of the world, “something just clicked for me,” he says.
Now involved in modeling hydraulic distribution systems, often for municipalities, Paul also recently volunteered his time to help design and engineer a new parking lot and drainage system for a nonprofit school located in his own Chicago neighborhood, one of the poorest in the city.
Given the need worldwide for qualified engineers and the growing interest in the 3-2 program, Wheaton hired Bill Medcalf, a licensed professional engineer, as director for the program last fall. “The engineer provides products and services that improve quality of life and standards of living,” he says. “Wheaton’s Christian liberal arts focus encourages our students to bring their faith into service as they meet profound human needs.”
Not only does Medcalf advise students—he’s also working to strengthen Wheaton’s relationships with partner institutions and to expand the scope of these partnerships. He hopes to create new programs of study and more professional internships.
Medcalf also dedicates a large portion of his time to helping Wheaton students keep up with the new technologies in their chosen fields. As the engineering field and student interest evolve and grow, more courses are being offered on Wheaton’s campus. Medcalf develops and teaches these courses, or guides students toward online offerings from IIT. “The attention Bill has called to our engineering program is extraordinary,” Dr. Chappell says.
Perhaps most importantly, the new growth and direction for Wheaton’s dual degree program means students will go out equipped as they head into ever-diversifying industries. Colleen Chapman, for instance, considers the theological issues that she explored during her time at Wheaton as the foundation on which she’s built her life after college.
“I’m still working through big questions—I think that is a never-ending part of this life,” Colleen says. “But that process of searching for answers was one I began to explore in a place where the Bible is accurately taught. It gave me certainties to cling to in times of uncertainty. Facing hardship would be challenging without the foundation of God’s truth.”
The foundation of God’s truth. Spoken like a true engineer.