HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- A new partnership between the state's largest single-site employer and the Top of Utah's largest institution of learning has officials at both places looking forward to the future.
Weber State University's electronics engineering bachelor's degree program sent its first graduate into the workforce on Dec. 9 when Sunset resident Heather Wokurka finished the program and participated in the university's commencement.
Brad Mortensen, vice president for university advancement at WSU, said the program was started to help fill an increasing need for electronics engineers in the Top of Utah's growing aerospace industry, particularly at Hill Air Force Base. The program was approved by the Utah Board of Regents in the summer 2010; classes began that fall.
Although the program has only one graduate so far, Hill officials say the new program will help sustain the base as future workloads increase.
"This program is very important to Hill Air Force Base and the things we expect to have going here in the future," said Jim Sutton, director of plans and programs at Hill.
Sutton said the base currently employs about 600 to 650 electronics engineers who perform blue collar work as part of the Ogden Air Logistics Center.
Sutton said workload growth for the next decade will drive that number up by 10 percent or more each year, and that doesn't include retirements, separations or other reasons to replace members of the workforce.
Most of the courses are taught as night classes at WSU's Davis Campus in Layton, just a few miles west of Hill's south gate.
Targeting engineering professionals who want to upgrade their qualifications, the program is ideal for many engineers already working at Hill, Sutton said.
"Not many people can just leave the workforce to try to pursue a degree that will advance their career," he said. "So to have a program that offers night classes just down the road from us, that's a big deal."
David Ferro, dean of the College of Applied Sciences at WSU, said the program will have six more students graduate this spring and more than 100 students were currently enrolled.
Ferro said the program is gaining steam because students know they may be able to find work when they graduate and that work will likely be close to home.
"We can increasingly promise that folks can get their degrees and then stay in the area," he said. "The program is very much driven by our partners in the community, and Hill is obviously a huge part of that."