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The Pursuit of Engineering A Unique Opportunity for AU Students

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A young man sits outdoors with a laptop
Former AU computer science major and Columbia engineering student, Brendan Burke on Columbia's campus.

American University offers a unique and relatively new joint degree program in affiliation with Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. This program is open to any student with any major at AU providing the prerequisite courses needed to apply to this program have been taken. Through this program, students typically spend three or four years as full-time students at AU, followed by two years as full-time students at Columbia University. Students graduate with a BA or BS from AU and a BS in a specific engineering major from Columbia University. Columbia's Combined Plan program is the first dual-degree engineering program in the United States. In November 2014, AU joined more than 100 colleges and universities that were already Columbia Combined Plan affiliates.

As Program Director I serve as the faculty liaison between AU and Columbia. Over the past two and a half years, I have been working with AU advisors and departments to spread the word about this unique program opportunity for our students. By pursuing the dual-degree program option, our students can multiply their career-options post-graduation. In fact, Columbia's engineering school reports that the dual-degree students have had better job opportunities, with higher starting salaries, than students who go directly through traditional engineering programs. Students gain experience with critical thinking, problem solving, and reasoning while studying at AU. These skills are highly sought after from employers and when paired with the technical course work in engineering at Columbia, graduates have increased opportunities for employment, research, and graduate studies.

I'm delighted to report that in spring 2016, AU had its first two students accepted into the program. The first was Brendan Burke, a computer science major at AU. Brendan is now pursing computer science at Columbia. The second was James Palladino, an applied mathematics major at AU. James is now pursuing mechanical engineering at Columbia. Both students have indicated that they are finding the program rigorous, challenging, and well worth it. In regards to his initial experiences, Brendan recently expressed to me that, "The Combined Plan Program between American and Columbia University allows you to pursue both liberal arts and engineering degrees in a 5-year span. The advising at American couldn't have been more helpful throughout the application process, always assuring I maintained my GPA and took the appropriate courses for my specific engineering major." In terms of the overall experience with the program James expressed that, "Coming to Columbia as a 3-2 student has been a great experience. In the engineering department you get to be surrounded by a lot of high quality colleagues and are taught by some of the top people in their respective fields. It's not all easy, that much is for certain. The classes will challenge you to perform at the best you can manage to do, but that is to be expected when you're coming from a liberal arts college to the school in the university that is engineering focused exclusively. There were a few times in the first semester where I was down on myself for not measuring up to my own standards, but I pulled through it and came back the next day. You've got to be committed to the engineering profession in order to make it work. That being said I would do it again if I had to because, though it is difficult, the 3-2 program is something that is definitely worth sticking through."

Presently there are approximately 15 AU students that are actively pursuing the dual-degree program option. Most of these students are in science- or mathematics-related disciplines at AU. Given the large number of science and mathematics courses required for admission to this program, it is quite natural for students in these disciplines to pursue additional studies in engineering. It is important to note, however, that any student from any major at AU is eligible to pursue this program option as long as they take all of the foundational science and mathematics courses required by Columbia while studying at AU.

In regards to dual-degree program Brendan Burke recommended that, "With this program, you get the rare opportunity to study in two of the most culturally vibrant and intellectually stimulating cities in the nation. At Columbia you get placed in housing with other students in the same program, so you're always surrounded by people who know exactly what you're going through. There really is something special about studying in an environment so extremely devoted to fostering a culture of self-motivation and personal growth through academic rigor."

If you have a student who is interested in exploring this unique program option, I am more than happy to meet with them and explain the program requirements and provide more details about the Columbia experience. Brendan Burke and James Palladino are program pioneers, paving the way for other students to pair their degree from AU with an engineering degree from Columbia through this exciting program option. More information about this program can be found on AU's engineering website. I can be reached at