The pending expansion of the Southern Maryland Mechanical Engineering Program is now on hold because of lack of funding. This could have an effect, not only on the growth of the program, but also on the growth of the Southern Maryland economy.
What is the Southern Maryland Mechanical Engineering Program?
The Southern Maryland Mechanical Engineering Program is a two-year program that creates an articulation agreement, meaning all program credits will transfer, between College of Southern Maryland (CSM) and University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP).
Those who participate in the program are UMCP students who, instead of taking classes on the home campus full-time, spend the majority of their academic time on the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC) campus.
In addition to this, students also have the opportunity to complete an internship with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), a division of NAVAIR, with a possible employment opportunity upon successful graduation and completion of the program, according to CSM.
In order to be admitted into this program CSM engineering students must first apply to UMCP during their sophomore year and be accepted into the engineering program.
This program allows students to participate in the UMCP engineering program while still staying local.
More information on this program can be found here: Southern Maryland Program.
What is the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center?
The SMHEC consists of two buildings located in California, Md. The first building was built in 1994 and the second building in 2003.
This campus is used to facilitate classes from colleges across the state. There are 90 different programs that are taught at this facility with over two thirds being either education or engineering.
One engineering program that is taught at SMHEC is the Southern Maryland Mechanical Engineering Program.
Many of the classes required by this program are taught at this facility using the available classrooms and laboratories in these two buildings.
Expanding the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center
In 2013 leaders of the University System of Maryland (USM), the SMHEC, and the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance (SMNA) signed an agreement on terms for a third building to be built on the SMHEC campus.
This building was originally supposed to mirror the first two buildings and expand on space to allow for higher enrollment into the programs that are offered there but the purpose has been modified.
Instead of being a building limited to higher education needs, this third building is intended to accommodate the unmanned research and development needs on and off the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
This building is being designed to become a test site for unmanned aircraft systems (drones). In order to do this the building must include research space.
According to Ken Farquhar, Southern Maryland Navy Alliance president, by combining the purpose of the building to include both higher education and the needs of Patuxent River this test site “will enhance academic opportunities focused on unmanned systems, provide access to research facilities ‘outside of the gate’ that otherwise can only be found on base and support professional development opportunities for our community now and into the future.”
In 2013 the University System of Maryland was allotted $1.5 million for the planning of this new building at the SMHEC and in 2014 another million was set aside creating a base fund of $2.5 million.
SMHEC funding has been cut
The expected funding for this new building did not appear in the 2016 fiscal year budget released by Governor Hogan, it was instead included in the Capital Improvement Plan for 2018.
This means that the funding has not been denied, it has been pushed back to be allotted in the 2018 FY budget, which would mean the building would not be open for use until at least 2020.
The planning fund stands at $2.5 million. In order to complete the planning and design for this $70-$80 million building at least $3.85 million more is needed.
A petition has been created to be given to Governor Hogan, Senate President Miller, Speaker of the House Busch and the Southern Maryland Delegation. The petition can be viewed here: Save the Funding for the SMHEC 3rd Building.
This petition is to put the planning and design fund back into the 2016 fiscal year budget.
The cutting of the planning budget means that the economic growth that could potentially come to the region from this new amenity has come to a screeching halt.
“This is a very fast science,” said SMHEC Executive Director Mel Powell. “Putting this off to 2020 is like relying on cell phones to be the same in 2020. By then they will probably be a hologram on your wrist. This technology develops too quickly to put off that long.”
According to Farquhar, “A UMD research facility at the SMHEC, coupled with the UAS test site at the airport, creates the State’s first and only campus for RD and TE for unmanned systems making St. Mary’s County a leader in unmanned and autonomous systems’ industry, nationwide.”
He goes on to say that this could help create new business and job growth in the region.
The opening of this third building would create hundreds of jobs and bring military technology “outside the gate” and to the civilian world.
“This is our moment,” said Farquhar. “Our opportunity to demonstrate how commercializing defense technologies can spur new business and job growth in Maryland.”
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