|A Huge Step Forward in Fire Protection Engineering Education|
From the Technical Director
A Huge Step Forward in Fire Protection Engineering Education
By Morgan J. Hurley, P.E. | Fire Protection Engineering
On May 25, 2010, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California, announced that they had launched a new fire protection engineering program that will begin offering courses in September, 2010. The creation of the fire protection engineering program at Cal Poly represents the culmination of a decades-long desire to have a fire protection engineering degree program in the western United States. Cal Poly will offer a graduate-level education program that leads to a Master of Science degree in fire protection engineering. The university plans to offer both on-campus and distance learning options.
Prior to the creation of the fire protection engineering program at Cal Poly, the only fire protection engineering degree programs in the United States were located at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and the University of Maryland. There was a fire protection engineering degree program at the Illinois Institute of Technology until it was discontinued in 1985.
For many years, the demand for fire protection engineers has greatly exceeded the number of qualified engineers available - particularly outside of the eastern United States - so there has been a strong desire for new academic programs in the United States. However, translating this demand into a formal academic program is exceptionally difficult.
First, universities are businesses, and academic administrators are hesitant to commit resources to an academic program in a discipline with which they are unfamiliar. Most university administrators are familiar with the "big four" engineering disciplines, but few are familiar with fire protection engineering. While all fire protection engineers and employers of fire protection engineers see the value of additional degree programs, most university administrators do not. In addition to concerns with supply and demand for students, universities will look for research and outside funding opportunities. Secondly, for a program to be accredited, it must have sufficient faculty to teach the associated courses. There are very few people available to serve as fire protection engineering faculty at an institution of higher learning, and hardly any of them are available to relocate to an institution in the western United States.
A number of factors contributed to the success at Cal Poly. There was interest at the state level, particularly in the State Fire Marshal's office, given the concern for wildland-urban interface fires in the state. The program attracted the support of the university's dean of continuing education and a senior faculty member in the department of mechanical engineering. And, importantly, a seasoned fire protection engineering faculty member was available to direct the program.
However, the work at Cal Poly is not finished; on the contrary, the work has just begun. The program has been introduced as a pilot program and has five years to become established as a regular program. This means that they need the help of the fire protection engineering profession to recruit students to fill their classrooms and on-line courses. Hopefully, this will not be difficult given the pent-up demand for educational opportunities in the western United States.
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