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After two years of study, two University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering programs are proposing to merge into a single department administrators say will be greater than the sum of its parts.

Friday, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents will consider approving a merger of the UNL-administered Department of Computer and Electronics Engineering (CEEN), located at the Peter Kiewit Institute campus in Omaha, and the Department of Electrical Engineering based in Lincoln.

Together, the programs will form a single Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering that will benefit students and faculty members, UNL College of Engineering Dean Tim Wei said.

Faculty members at CEEN specialize in telecommunications research, while EE faculty members have strengths in biomedical imaging, electronic materials and energy research areas.

Students enrolled in CEEN were lacking the full College of Engineering experience, Wei said.

“It’s not so much that the students were missing out on opportunities, but they weren’t getting the full breadth of the College of Engineering,” he said. “The Omaha students weren’t able to interface with other engineering students or faculty within the college.”

At the same time, students in the EE program at Lincoln were losing out on a vital piece of their education by not communicating with faculty and students who specialize in telecommunications.

Even while both programs were offering identical curriculum offerings, each was incomplete in its scope, Wei said.

Pending Board of Regents approval, the structure of both departments could change. Regents are scheduled to meet at 8:30 a.m. in the Varner Hall Boardroom at 3835 Holdrege St.

Under the five-year strategic plan for the College of Engineering, UNL will create “full educational opportunities for Omaha and Lincoln students” by linking classrooms and student communities through the Internet, which will add to the specialized course offerings on both campuses.

Collaboration in research efforts will also benefit faculty and students on both campuses, Wei said, as each campus will be able to leverage its strengths into an effort benefiting the department as a whole.

One way Lincoln campus students will benefit is by collaborating with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Information Sciences and Technology on “big data” and data infrastructure projects.

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“Engineering research has evolved to a point where you can’t be successful today in a narrowly focused discipline or sub-discipline,” Wei said. “You have to be able to connect across multiple disciplines and even outside of engineering.”

The merger would combine the 160 undergraduate students in CEEN and the 240 undergraduates in EE into a single department of approximately 400 students, bringing the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering in line with other departments in the college.

Mechanical and Materials Engineering enrolls between 500 and 600 students, and Computer Science, Civil Engineering and Biosystems Engineering each enroll between 400 and 500 students, Wei said.

“This will create a single department that has a similar critical mass as the other departments in the college,” he said.

If approved by the Board of Regents, Wei said the 35 faculty members, all of whom will keep their positions, will meet to organize “the internal mechanics of the department,” including developing curriculum and structuring promotion and tenure.

Wei said the merger will present new opportunities for engineering students and faculty at UNL.

“We have an opportunity to do better,” Wei said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com. On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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