UH Hilo pre-engineering program prepares students to pursue degree

Students completing the UH Hilo two-year pre-engineering program are ready to transfer to a degree-granting institution to study a wide range of fields including mechanical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, aeronautical engineering, system engineering, or software engineering among others.

By Alyssa Mathews.

Aerial view of biofuel plant.
Engineers are needed on Hawai‘i Island for industries such as biodeisel production. Big Island Biodeisel, above, opened in Kea‘au in 2012.

The field of engineering is diverse and highly rewarding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, engineers across the board had a median annual wage of $91,010, more than twice the median wage for all workers. With 1,681,000 engineers currently employed, nearly 140,000 new engineering jobs are expected over the 2016–2026 decade.

True to trends, there is a huge demand on Hawai‘i Island to hire workers with engineering degrees. Unfortunately, there are no such graduates being produced locally because of the lack of a degree program.

But there is a way for local students to get started toward earning an engineering degree—UH Hilo’s two-year pre-engineering program prepares students to complete their degrees at another academic institution. After two years of coursework, students have the fundamentals of engineering, such as the necessary math and science courses, to successfully transfer to a college or university with a four-year engineering program.

Shawon S. M. Rahman
Shawon S. M. Rahman

“Many students, local students especially, would like to stay on this island [while pursuing degrees] for many purposes, such as expenses and family,” says Shawon S. M. Rahman, an associate professor of computer science and advisor at the pre-engineering program, UH Hilo.

Notably, the UH Hilo pre-engineering program makes it easy for students to transfer easily to UH Mānoa’s engineering program, eliminating the need to leave the state to complete a degree. “Our program directly matches with the engineering programs at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa campus,” says Rahman. As advisor of the program, Rahman helps students in their transition after completing their two years at UH Hilo. “I assist students to transfer to UH Mānoa and complete a four-year engineering degree.”

Further, Rahman is seeking support from UH Mānoa to help provide local students and Native Hawaiian students with resources and scholarships.

“I’m trying to attract more local and Native Hawaiian students to engineering, so recently I had a meeting with Mānoa campus—we are trying to form a Native Hawaiian Engineering Association to attract more Native Hawaiian students,” explains Rahman. “Our goal is to promote to Native Hawaiian students, they will join a cohort and mentor each other and learn from each other.”

Students who complete the two-year pre-engineering program are not limited to transferring only to UH Mānoa—the program prepares them for a variety of engineering degree programs. “Our pre-engineering program fits with pretty much any engineering degree in the USA,” says Rahman.

Engineers in-demand here and elsewhere

The UH Hilo pre-engineering program helps fulfill the local need for engineers in business and industry. Rahman says astronomy base facilities, small businesses such as Hawaiian Telecom and Hawai‘i Electric, and government agencies all need engineers.

Maunakea observatories on summit, snowcovered, sunset.
Engineers are needed on Hawai‘i Island in the field of astronomical observation at both the observatories on Maunakea and their corresponding base facilities in Hilo. Credit Wikimedia Commons.

Engineers are also widely sought and in high-demand in every city and state for many notable companies.

“For example, software engineering is a high demand area with a huge job market for big brand companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon,” says Rahman. “There are simply millions of jobs out there and the number of graduates we are producing in the USA is not enough to meet the demand.”

The UH Hilo program prepares students for a diverse range of degrees and careers in engineering that share a common basis in mathematics (Calculus I and II) and science (e.g. Chemistry I, II, Physics I, II and Introduction to Biology).

“Our students can pursue and get a degree in engineering whether it’s mechanical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, aeronautical engineering, system engineering, or software engineering,” says Rahman.

Despite the challenges local engineering students face in having to transfer to complete their degree, the pre-engineering program encourages and empowers students to have a highly rewarding career in an area with good pay and huge job growth in the coming years.

“We have to produce graduates who have studied in high-demand areas that will get them higher-paid and stable jobs,” says Rahman.

Story by Alyssa Mathews, a freshman at UH Hilo. She graduated from Waiakea High School and is a UH Hilo Chancellor’s Scholar.