NTU expands elite engineering course

It has tied up with Northwestern University to offer option for those keen on design

It is an annual affair. Results are released and top A-level science students shun engineering and pick medicine, business or computingbecause of high salaries in these fields.

But engineering is fighting back. Leading the charge is the elite Renaissance Engineering Programme (REP), launched in 2011 at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

In the past few years, the REP was oversubscribed by seven times. This year, it aims to take in up to 70 students, up from 60 last year.

The REP combines engineering with business and liberal arts, and students spend a year at one of two partner universities - University of California, Berkeley or Imperial College London - before interning at companies abroad.

In the case of Berkeley, students intern with companies in Silicon Valley. Those heading for London work in companies such as Rolls Royce.

Now, NTU is upping the REP's appeal by tying up with another leading engineering school - Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.

Students who choose to do a year there will take the design certificate course from the renowned Segal Design Institute.

Working in team-based, cross-disciplinary settings, students focus on innovative design processes to solve real problems for real clients. The course ends with each student generating a design portfolio that is presented at a Segal Design Expo. They go on to work in start-ups and companies in the United States.

NTU provost Freddy Boey said Northwestern is known for engineering design, and NTU has also set up a joint institute with it to research the areas of disease diagnostics and targeted drug delivery methods.

He said it is important for NTU graduates to have global exposure, as it will "teach them to operate in different countries and cultures".

As the world's largest single-campus engineering facility turning out about 3,000 graduates a year, NTU, he added, is aiming to bring the excitement back to the discipline.

Prof Boey, a materials engineer known for many inventions including the world's smallest heart pump, said: "Sadly, students and parents still think of engineers as repairmen.

"But when the students go to Silicon Valley and UK, they see for themselves that engineers are inventors and creators. A degree in engineering can lead to interesting careers."

He said Gen Y students want courses that are interesting and expose them to different areas so they can pick and choose. They also want to travel and have varied experiences. The REP has elements of all that.

Materials engineer Gan Chee Lip, who heads REP, said that with three partners, the programme offers more choices to students.

"Those interested in technopreneurship can head for Berkeley. Those interested in areas such as aerospace engineering can go to Imperial... Now, we have Northwestern for those interested in design," he said.

REP student Cyndi Teh, 21, a second-year mechanical engineering student, hopes to be in the first batch at Northwestern this year.

She said: "I am really interested in product design - how to create products that people will love, that evoke feelings. "

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'NTU expands elite engineering course'. Print Edition | Subscribe