Fast forward 20 years: UMSL, WUSTL reshape face of engineers in the region

UMSL engineering alumni Cedric Cook and Shirley Jenkins

The UMSL/WUSTL Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program marked its 20th anniversary with a reception Oct. 17 at UMSL. On hand for the celebrations were engineering alumni Cedric Cook and Shirley Jenkins. (Photo by August Jennewein)

A little more than a decade after joining Monsanto, Kevin Deppermann had attained a high-level position. He was content but not altogether satisfied.

He still had a thirst for knowledge and a yearning to earn an engineering degree.

“I thought it would give me more credibility,” he says. ”It’s something I always wanted to do.” Over the years, Deppermann had piecemealed together courses here and there but didn’t feel he was really going anywhere. When he heard about the UMSL/WUSTL Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, he knew it would be a perfect fit.

“This program is exactly what a nontraditional student like me really, really needed,” he says. “Plus, the partnership between the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Washington University in St. Louis made for a pretty prestigious collaboration.”

Deppermann graduated in 1998 with a degree in electrical engineering. In June 2014 he’ll have been at Monsanto for 36 years, where he is a chief engineer and a senior fellow leading the Smart Fields Automation and Engineering Team.

In 2011, Deppermann won the prestigious Monsanto Edgar M. Queeny Award, Monsanto’s highest award for scientific and engineering excellence.

Recognizing a need to educate place-bound and minority students looking for engineering careers, the universities partnered in 1993 to fill that void. They created the program, which offers Bachelor of Science degrees in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering.

Students complete their pre-engineering and general education requirements at UMSL before taking upper-level engineering classes in the evenings at Washington University.

From left, Bernard Feldman, Kevin Deppermann and Joseph O'Sullivan

Kevin Deppermann (center), BS electrical engineering 1998, received the Dean’s Alumni Award for his outstanding contributions to engineering from Bernard Feldman (left), associate dean of the UMSL/WUSTL Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, and Joseph O’Sullivan (right), dean of UMSL/WUSTL Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“I see this as an excellent tool for a lot of different people,” Deppermann says. “It’s very cost effective and gave me a great world view in respect to engineering. I can’t say enough good things about the program.”

In the program’s 20 years, nearly 650 students have earned degrees. Since 2008, the program has grown nearly 50 percent, and about 75 percent of the graduates have stayed in the St. Louis area. The percentage of African American graduates from the program is nearly double the national average.

Shirley Jenkins, an Instrumentation Operations Engineer at Boeing, who received her electrical engineering degree in 2004, initially wanted to be a lawyer, but she decided during her senior year in high school to pursue the engineering route.

“I love math,” she says. “I did research and thought, ‘Well I think I would make an excellent engineer.’ I’m grateful the program came into existence. I don’t think I would have become an engineer without it.”

Jenkins has worked at Boeing since 2005, first in Cape Canaveral, Fla., then back in St. Louis. Recently, she temporarily relocated to Palmdale, Calif., to work on a Boeing project there. Reflecting on her career, Jenkins is amazed how far she’s come and all she’s accomplished.

“I’m definitely satisfied and appreciative for all I’ve been able to accomplish,” she says. “You know, I’m an African American female who grew up in the city of St. Louis, downtown may I add. My education and perseverance has afforded me the opportunity to move out of that area, and make something of myself outside of what someone would have probably dreamed of.”

In 2011, Jenkins won the Test and Evaluation Engineer of the Year Award from Boeing Space Coast Operations in Florida.

Cedric Cook always wanted to be an engineer but was footing the entire bill for his college education, so his options were limited. When a counselor at his community college recommended the joint engineering program, he found it to be a perfect fit.

“It’s a top-notch program,” he says. “You get the best of both worlds. All of the professors were willing to help. That’s the biggest thing, having that support group.”

Cook was also navigating uncharted waters and appreciated the extra guidance.

“The program was geared toward nontraditional students, which was attractive to me,” he says. “Not that my family wasn’t supportive, but I am a first-generation college graduate. I had to do it myself.”

Cook graduated magna cum laude with an electrical engineering degree in 2001. He’s been at Boeing for 13 years where he works as an engineer lead.

During a reception Oct. 17 at UMSL, the originators and current stewards of the joint engineering program marked its 20-year anniversary.

“No one has had a greater impact on education in our region than these four chancellors,” said Joseph O’Sullivan, dean of the program, as he introduced UMSL Chancellor Tom George, Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, UMSL Chancellor Emeritus Blanche Touhill and Washington University Chancellor Emeritus William Danforth. Touhill and Danforth led the formation of the program.

“This program was well conceived,” Danforth said. “But it wouldn’t have lasted unless it was good for the people of the region, unless it was good for the people of our community and the people of the state of Missouri. And it has been.”

During the event, Deppermann, the UMSL alumnus working at Monsanto, received the Dean’s Alumni Award for his outstanding contributions to engineering.


This story was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of UMSL Magazine.

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