Part Grizzly, Part Ram, All Engineer: CSU/Adams State Mechanical Engineering Program Wraps Up First Year

An instructor speaks in front of various engineering equipment. In the foreground, a student faces away from the camera, wearing a T-shirt that bears the text, "Part GRIZZLY/ Part RAM/ ALL ENGINEER." Below on the shirt are the CSU Mechanical Engineering department and Adams State University logos.
A group of students from the CSU/Adams State cohort tour the CSU Mechanical Engineering laboratories on the Fort Collins campus, April 24, 2023. Instructor James Tillotson describes the various equipment that will be incorporated in the labs at Adams State.

The start of a new semester means new and exciting beginnings for many college students—new classes, friends, and opportunities. For the Department of Mechanical Engineering at CSU and Adams State University, the start of the Fall 2022 semester meant all those things and an entirely new academic program.

Last semester, 21 students stepped onto the Adams State campus in Alamosa, Colorado as the first cohort of the CSU/Adams State Mechanical Engineering partnership program.

About the program

The CSU/Adams State partnership program helps make engineering education more accessible to students in the San Luis Valley. Students there often can’t afford to move away from home to pursue a college degree, which in turn limits their future job opportunities and salaries.

The partnership program allows students to attend classes at Adams State and earn the same CSU mechanical engineering Bachelor of Science degree offered on the CSU Fort Collins campus.

“The intention behind this partnership is to provide opportunities for students to earn a degree in mechanical engineering who otherwise might not have the opportunity,” said Department Head Christian Puttlitz. “There isn’t another engineering program for over 100 miles from the San Luis Valley. Offering a program at Adams State allows for students to live closer to home while getting their degree, reducing their financial burden as well as educating them in a degree path with lucrative job opportunities.”

“In addition to helping meet the educational goals of local students, this program will serve as a pipeline of highly skilled and technically trained workers for existing and future companies and industry in the San Luis Valley,” said Adams State Interim Director of the School of STEM and professor, Matt Nehring.

Adams State is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) with a Hispanic student population around 38 percent. About half of its total student population identifies as an underrepresented minority. Within this first engineering cohort, 41 percent of students identify as Hispanic.

“Diversifying the future of engineering is a priority that both CSU and Adams State share. The partnership between our universities is our way of working toward a future in engineering that includes a diverse range of perspectives, backgrounds, and people,” said Puttlitz.

Student perspectives

An instructor in a green "Adams State U" shirt looks on as two women (one also wearing an Adams State University sweatshirt) work together with a laptop computer and electronic equipment.
Reyes (left) and Benavides (right) conduct an experiment in Adams State Physics Lab with Nehring. (Photo courtesy of Linda Reyes, Adams State)

Caro Plascencia Benavides and Nohemi Rodarte Reyes both were drawn to study mechanical engineering because of the broad opportunities it provides. Benavides has her eyes on the skies with a future career in aerospace while Reyes envisions herself as a future architect.

“We’re really learning a lot here and doing a lot of critical thinking and problem solving. It’s sometimes challenging at first, but in the end, you get it. We’re building upon our knowledge and learning to think in new ways,” said Benavides.

“The first semester was challenging, we were taking classes like Introduction to Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry, and learning to program on the computer, but now things are coming more easily—we’ve had some practice,” said Reyes.

Part of what makes the program so great are the professors and the one-on-one attention students receive because of the program’s size, they said. They also mentioned they love having Nehring as an instructor in their Introduction to Mechanical Engineering class.

“Dr. Nehring is really encouraging, even when we don’t do as well as we thought, or when things are difficult. It’s nice to have someone who believes in you,” said Benavides.

Both Benavides and Reyes encourage students thinking about the program to join. “Try it! You have to know it’s challenging, but it’s fun.”

Future of the program

In April of 2022, before the program’s launch, 34 students had applied. Just one year later, applications have skyrocketed with more than 80 applications.

“We’re anticipating nearly 100 applications to the program for this upcoming academic year,” said Puttlitz.

Space is growing, too: Adams State broke ground on a $1.6 million building expansion that will house future classroom and laboratory space for the program.

“Our plan has been to reproduce all aspects of the CSU Mechanical Engineering curriculum, including the laboratory emphasis, which required renovation of existing space as well as an addition for a machine shop,” Nehring said. “We are very appreciative of the wide-ranging and supportive efforts we’ve received from the Adams State and CSU administrations, Congressman Neguse, Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper, Governor Polis, as well as many local companies.”

Students interested in applying for the program can visit the Adams State University website.