ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- The Rockford region is closer to having a homegrown engineering workforce, as the first graduates of the NIU Engineering at RVC program pick up their diplomas.
"A program like this I think was much needed; a lot of the industry here is growing, so the demand for engineers in Rockford is on the rise," said Bradley Robison, one of the graduates of the program.
Robison is one of the first three students who earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Northern Illinois University on the Rock Valley College campus this month.
"To have a program right here where you can intern while going to school, but also maintain those jobs right out of college is a wonderful feeling," said Robison.
About 24 percent of the engineering workforce is expected to retire in the next 5 to 10 years.
"We will have a need to grow future talent to replace those positions, in addition to seeing a continued increase in the number of mechanical engineers that are needed within our region," said Kelly Cooper, the Executive Director of Engineering Our Future.
NIU Engineering at RVC began in the fall of 2016 with less than 15 students and has grown to 45 students today.
"If you look at the Rock Valley College Engineering 101: Introduction to Engineering course, we have increased the number of students interested in that program since the fall of 2016 by 64 percent. So we're really excited that this program is increasing interest in engineering and really that we have the opportunity to grow our own talent to meet the workforce needs of the community," said Cooper.
40 students serve internships with 25 area employers, giving them the chance to earn while they learn.
"This allows them to walk out of college without a lot of debt and also the wonderful opportunity for students to earn a bachelor’s degree with the cost of less than $40,000 dollars," said Cooper.
"I would definitely recommend it, especially if you are from the area. The college experience versus the work experience that you'll get is invaluable. I can't emphasize enough working while going to school, especially in an industry that you want to be in. It just helps put you above the next person coming out of college," said Robison.
RVC is anticipating at least 10 more students to graduate from the program next year.