December 2017

At first glance, it may appear that electrical engineering, product design and public health have little in common. But the new majors at Bethel University, Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota are all designed to spark innovation. These are just a few of the new majors that became available this year at Minnesota Private Colleges.

Bethel engineering students

Bethel University

Name an invention in your lifetime. Now, try naming an invention that doesn’t rely on electricity. It’s tough.

That’s because most new consumer products — think Fitbit, electric-powered bikes, Bluetooth-enabled speakers — are powered by electricity. “There’s not a lot that isn’t electrical,” said Karen Rogers, an associate professor at Bethel University in St. Paul.

Which is why Bethel has made it possible for students to earn a bachelor’s in electrical engineering without leaving its St. Paul campus. In past years, Bethel offered a 3 + 2 dual-degree to earn a bachelor’s degrees in physics and electrical engineering in five years. A student’s freshman through junior years would be spent at Bethel, followed by a transfer to another institution for the final two years. But many students wanted to stay at Bethel.

So this fall Bethel began offering an electrical engineering degree, allowing students to immerse themselves in physics and electrical engineering. And they can do it in four years, not five. To make this happen, Bethel constructed two new electrical engineering spaces, outfitting the lab with specialized equipment. And it hired Rogers.

Rogers has been immersed in the field since enrolling at the General Motors Institute at age 17. After graduating with an electrical engineering degree, she jumped into graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. For the past 22 years, Rogers served as a professor of electrical engineering at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan.

Bethel’s programs are practical, not just theoretical. Students will be required to complete an engineering project that involves adding a new feature to an existing product, developing a new invention or designing instrumentation for a physics experiment. Rogers plans to have the students collaborate with physicists in the department and engineers at local technology firms for this capstone design course.

table designed by MCAD student

Minneapolis College of Art and Design

To develop products, Minnesota-based companies like Medtronic, Polaris and Ergotron rely on product designers to imagine, craft and create new stuff. But there aren’t enough talented Midwest designers to satisfy the needs of employers.

“They’re having trouble keeping people and are eager for homegrown talent,” said Gabriel Ruegg, an associate professor at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “There’s definitely a demand for designers.”

So MCAD is starting a new product design major and has hired Ruegg, a graduate of Pratt Institute, to lead the effort. Before moving to Minneapolis in 2017, Ruegg lived in New York and designed new products. These included a rotary cheese grater, an inflatable castle-like playspace for kids and a colorful cutlery block.

MCAD is ramping up its product design offerings in 2018. In January, Ruegg will begin teaching an Introduction to Production Design course. In September, the college will add three courses: Drawing for Design, Digital Design and Product Design Studio. The goal is to add 10 to 15 students every year.

Every MCAD product design major will be required to take several entrepreneurial studies courses. Said Ruegg, “The broader goal is to help students understand how practical business constraints impact their work.”

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota

Students enrolled in Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota new public health program want to help people make better lifestyle choices. And after graduation, it’s likely they’ll find jobs. The number of health educators and community health workers is expected to jump 16 percent in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Saint Mary’s public health program, launched in September, is designed for working adults. Classes are eight weeks in length and meet once a week for four hours.

Todd Reinhart, Saint Mary’s dean of Sciences and Health Professions, said public health students are taught how to design and implement programs focused on reducing obesity, encouraging infant immunizations and other worthy goals. And they learn how to do it in a culturally appropriate ways.

“The person who delivers the public health message and what they say matters,” said Reinhart. Some of his career has focused on HIV/AIDS research; he is a graduate of Hamline University and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

At Saint Mary’s he wants students to gain practical experience. “We want to do more than just deliver content,” he said. “We want to provide students with the skills to make them immediately effective in the workplace.” Those jobs are likely to be at local or state government agencies, nonprofits or health care systems.

More than 140 majors are offered by the 17 institutions that are members of the Minnesota Private College Council. You can see a list of the current majors here; majors are also searchable using our website’s College Finder, which allows you to include arts and sports offerings in your query.

By Todd Melby