COLORADO SPRINGS — As the aerospace industry continues to grow, there is a new degree program to help bolster workforce needs in Southern Colorado.
The University of Colorado Colorado Springs plans to offer students a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering degree next fall. The program aims to help prepare students for high-paying careers in the aerospace industry and strengthen workforce development for the state.
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade reports that the aerospace industry in Colorado is the second largest aerospace economy in the U.S., consisting of over 400 employers producing over $6.8 billion in output and employing over 27,000 workers in 2020. Jobs in the aerospace industry tend to be high-paying positions: the average salary for aerospace engineers in Colorado in 2020 was $123,580 annually, according to the Department of Labor.
UCCS instructors say there is a need for aerospace engineers in the region, especially with many of them retiring. The expectation is the industry will need 1,000 more just to meet workforce needs.
"We need smart people who know what they're doing. We need people who know how to do this very complex math and understand it from a theoretical standpoint as well as being able to apply it," said Reina Young, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering student.
Young is a senior at the university, and majors in Mechanical Engineering with an Aerospace Engineering minor.
"I am very familiar with the crazy hours you have to put into the homework and the mental health breakdowns that come with it, but I know I'm not the first person to learn this. This has been done for thousands of years, and with the right support, I can get through this," said Young. "The Aerospace Department here is fantastic in what they teach us, but it feels like a major in itself without getting a second bachelor degree."
That would change with UCCS rolling out the aerospace engineering bachelor’s degree program.
"It will allow us to get a leg up on everyone else applying for local jobs. With the Space Force being here on top of the other military installations and DOD contracts, and allows us to have a leg up on people coming from out of state or out of the city. It keeps it local," said Young.
Freshman Katie Girardeau plans to switch majors to be a part of the program.
"Right now, I am in Mechanical Engineering but as soon as next fall starts I'm going to be in Aerospace," said Girardeau. "I was actually in the car when I got an email that they would be offering an aerospace major. I was like oh my gosh mom I can do aerospace because that's what I've always wanted to do."
Girardeau wants to work with an experienced team to build aircrafts rather than designing. She hopes the new degree helps her gain a better understanding of aerospace technology.
"Aerospace can teach me a little more about how spacecraft works because Mechanical Engineering is more of a broad field. Aerospace will teach me more about planes and how they fly," said Girardeau.
The program is set to admit between 35 and 50 incoming freshman, and some sophomore transfers. The university hopes to get 120 students within the aerospace pipeline in four years.
“Persistent interest in the aerospace minor, together with student application trends both nationally and in Colorado, provide ample evidence of a strong student demand for this new degree option at UCCS,” said Peter Gorder, Chair of the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department. “And the robust aerospace industrial community in southern Colorado has been outspoken in their desire for more local workforce development to serve their current and future hiring needs.”
"We have a need in the Colorado Springs, and southern Colorado area in general for aerospace engineers. We do have an Aerospace Engineering program north of here, but there's really nothing here to meet the needs of the local demand in Southern Colorado," said Lynnane George, Senior Instructor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCCS.
UCCS will be the second aerospace engineering program in the state, the other University of Colorado Boulder. Both are a part of the U.S. Space Force University Partnership Program agreement, signed in August 2021 to develop talent pipelines and research partnerships to support the new branch of the military.
"To develop engineers that will be needed for their missions. We also have a lot of contractors in the area who are in the aerospace community that need to give jobs to our students," said George. "I think a lot more of our students and graduates will stay here in the community. That will also bring in more business into the community which will be good for the economy."
The new bachelor’s degree complements a transformational $3.5 million gift from the Anschutz Foundation, which is supporting new construction and a full renovation to the Engineering and Applied Science building. The new Anschutz Engineering Center — a 27,000 square foot building currently under design and slated to open in fall 2023 — will support new instructional laboratory spaces and new research laboratories, while helping to fuel the growth of the college by 60 percent by 2030 to meet workforce needs in the region.