K-State leads in providing Kansas with engineers

Students work in a chemical engineering lab extracting caffeine from tea bags in their second week of distilling. K-State graduated 635 engineering students in 2022. (Deborah Adeniji | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State graduated 635 engineering students in 2022 and 300 of them are working in Kansas. These numbers beat out any other university in Kansas, according to K-State Today

There are 148 registered engineering employers and K-State has been turning away employers after reaching capacity several weeks ago. Kerri Keller, executive director of the Career Center, said employers’ response to the upcoming career fair on Feb. 14 and 15 is a testament to the value of a K-State degree in engineering. 

“I believe there was over 300 companies total that came [to the career fair] and hired engineering graduates,” Matthew O’Keefe, dean of the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering, said. “I think approximately half of those are Kansas companies. So we’re talking, you know, 150 companies.”

Caleb Otto, director of project engineering at NorthWind Technical Services in Sabetha, Kansas, said he has attended the K-State Engineering Career Fair for the past 12 years to hire for his company.

“We’ve had some success and the majority of our success has come from career fairs,” Otto said. “Not only have I attended career fairs and found success … but I also attended the career fair as a student where I found my job.”

Otto said K-State is a wonderful place to find employees.

“A K-Stater has a great work ethic,” Otto said. “It’s not only what they learned in school, but they learned how to learn. And what I mean by that is if they don’t know what to do, they know how to find out how to problem solve, how to think about solving problems, and then the work ethic, also, to push them forward to complete their task and to be engaged in the work.”

Keller said it’s a challenge to get students to stay in the state because Kansas does not have large metro areas.

“We have smaller cities that … are maybe a little bit more limited,” Keller said, “But I think it’s still very impressive that our graduates are … staying in the state.”

Otto said he wanted to stay in Kansas after graduating from K-State in chemical engineering.

“I grew up in a small town, was raised on a farm, and I had a lot of opportunities to actually earn more money straight out of school,” Otto said. “But that was going to require me to move to larger cities like Houston or Cincinnati. I wanted to stay in a small, rural community.”

O’Keefe said The University Engineering Initiative Act, passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2011, provides funds to engineering programs at K-State, the University of Kansas, and Wichita State University.

“Each of the engineering programs under the Board of Regents got funding to increase the number of graduates in their programs, recognizing again, the state would like to have more engineers, more graduates and hopefully have more of them employed in the state,” O’Keefe said. “So that was a 10 year program … the real objective was to graduate more students, but to do that, you need good facilities, good faculty, you know, scholarships, all the things that go with that.”

O’Keefe said UEIA supported the construction of the Engineering Hall in 2015.

Having high-quality facilities, which were possible with state support, helped to attract more students, O’Keefe said.

The goal of the UEIA was for K-State, KU and WSU combined to have 1,367 engineers graduate in 2021, O’Keefe said.  

“So in 10 years, it ended up that there were more than 1,500 that were graduating, so we had exceeded that objective of 1,367,” O’Keefe said.

O’Keefe said the universities were interested in continuing the act after the first 10-year term.

“We went back to them and said this worked out really well. We think we could use another 10 years to continue,” O’Keefe said. “It was renewed and extended for another 10 years. So now we have, you know, an additional 10 years to continue this on, but also to help try to increase the number of students that stay in the state.”

O’Keefe said the benefit of K-State engineering graduates working in Kansas goes back to the founding of the university.

“I think that goes back to the Morrill Act … trying to help the state and the citizens of the state,” O’Keefe said. “To be able to keep [graduates] in the state really stays with that land grant mission of trying to help the citizens of the state.”

Keller said the 2023 Engineering Career Fair is for all students interested in engineering jobs and internships.