Nov. 14, 2014 10:30 AM

The boom is coming, and McNeese is ready for it.

Engineers and technicians from local industry get hands-on training at McNeese's model chemical plant.

For those of us who live in Southwest Louisiana, it seems that almost every day we hear of plans for another economic development project. Our region is on the precipice of an economic boom unlike anything experts have seen in our state. With reports of over $80 billion in industrial construction and expansion projects in progress or announced in Southwest Louisiana, employers will depend on McNeese State University to provide science, engineering, math and computer science graduates who will be in high demand for these expanding industrial facilities.

As the 75th anniversary celebration draws to a close, McNeese is focused on pioneering the future and following a strategic plan that addresses four main goals, each converging on igniting innovation for McNeese and all of Southwest Louisiana: first, to cultivate innovative teaching and learning; second, to collaborate with an expanding list of regional partners; third, to develop a McNeese "brand" that embraces our new culture of innovation; and fourth, to improve our campus and physical plant in a manner that feeds the human spirit and fosters creativity.

A few examples:

The Southwest Louisiana Entrepreneurial and Economic Development Center at McNeese is the heartbeat for the McNeese Student Innovation Center. McNeese was the second university in the country to offer the unique innovation curriculum. The minor in innovation is open to all McNeese students and includes coursework in creativity, communication skills and commercialization, which means learning to develop a raw idea into one that can be commercially viable. Students are using 3D scanning, printing and milling to refine ideas and create prototypes new products.

The petrochemical industry plays a large role in the Southwest Louisiana economy, and our College of Engineering is one of the few four-year universities to have a model chemical plant featuring industrial grade equipment, instrumentation and controls to train future engineers in a real-world environment.

We work closely with area industry partners to custom-tailor coursework drawn from our nationally accredited programs to fit the practical needs of each industry partner. So, for example, an employee working in a company that manufacturers valves might learn precision methods of valve efficiency from a McNeese faculty member with special expertise in that area.

McNeese is one of 19 universities in the country selected to receive a grant awarded by the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce to support ongoing initiatives focused on advancing regional commercialization efforts, entrepreneurship and a highly-skilled regional workforce.

Through a partnership with the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, McNeese offers baccalaureate and master's degrees to accommodate active duty service members, their families and civilians employed at JRTC and Fort Polk.

McNeese is one of a few universities to operate a state-of-the-art meat processing and production facility - the Center for Advancement of Meat Production and Processing. CAMPP is used by faculty and students to conduct applied research and provide information and assistance to area meat producers in addition to supporting workforce development by preparing students for a wide variety of jobs in the agricultural and food science industry.

We have strengthened our partnership with SOWELA Technical Community College, and transfer enrollment is expected to increase significantly over the next few years.

A new bachelor's degree in health systems management, offered thorough a partnership with Southeastern Louisiana University, will provide graduates opportunities for diversified jobs in an expanding heath management workforce.

Over the last 10 years, McNeese graduates have had an acceptance rate into U.S. medical schools almost double that of the national percentage rate.

As our region's population expands with an influx of residents from around the world, McNeese's role as the major provider of cultural education and entertainment will assume even greater importance. Presentations involving the visual and performing arts - including those offered by the Banners Cultural Series at McNeese - will undoubtedly find their audience numbers increase. Banners performances sometimes constitute the only external cultural experience available to some K-12 students in the five-parish "Imperial Calcasieu" region.

KBYS (short for Cowboys) began airing its first broadcasts this year. It is Louisiana's first university-community radio station, with volunteer support comprising almost all of its current operations. In addition to the local market, it has already demonstrated an international reach through Internet streaming.

And we are investing in our campus. Since 2000, campus construction or renovation projects totaling more than $117 million have been completed and more than $72 million in projects are currently in the design or bid stages.

McNeese has also garnered national attention. In the just released 2015 edition of "Best Colleges," McNeese is ranked in Tier One in the Best Regional Universities-South category, and it is also ranked in the top 50 among the top public schools in the southern region for a fourth consecutive year.

I believe McNeese graduates will be in high demand for the job opportunities that the economic growth will bring. The world is focused on Southwest Louisiana, and McNeese is ready for the spotlight.

Dr. Philip Williams earned his B.A., M.P.H., and Ph.D. degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and his J.D. degree from Columbia University in New York. After practicing law for 17 years, he returned to academia and served in a variety of administrative positions before his appointment in 2010 as the 6th President of McNeese State University.

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