In response to the global demand for more engineers and STEM-related skills, the Boldly Elon strategic plan for 2030 aims to advance a distinctive and cross-disciplinary STEM program. Graduates of these programs, grounded in the liberal arts and experiential learning, will be sought after as problem-solvers focused on the common good.

Architectural rendering of the Innovation Quad building.

University breaks ground on Innovation Quad

Construction began on the first two buildings of the Innovation Quad, marking a historic step forward for Elon University, the College and STEM programs.

Crews broke ground on the area between McMichael Science Center and Sankey Hall in March with a planned opening in August 2022. The first two buildings include the 20,000-square-foot Founders Hall, formerly IQ 1, and the 40,000-square-foot IQ 2. These first two buildings will house the engineering and physics programs, workshops and prefabrication spaces with advanced engineering equipment, mechatronics and virtual reality labs along with cross-disciplinary research spaces.

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The IQ construction will be accompanied by renovations to McMichael Science Center, expanding laboratory and classroom spaces there, and making more room for growth in the biology, chemistry and environmental studies departments.

Future IQ buildings will house collaborative spaces that foster interdisciplinary research projects between STEM programs and the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and communications fields.

A professor and a student in a lab wearing goggles.

Admissions growth reflects rising interest in STEM programs

Incoming students continue to be attracted to the College’s STEM programs, evidenced in rising numbers of prospective students indicating interest in the subjects on applications.

The number of applicants seeking majors in STEM fields rose 24 percent in 2020-21 — from 2,933 in 2019-20 to 3,652 this year. Nearly 87 percent — more than 3,100 — of those students were admitted to the Class of 2025 with an average GPA of 4.34.

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The diversity of STEM applicants to Elon also continued to grow. Thirty percent of admitted students indicated they were students of color, 93 were international students and 16 percent were first-generation college students.

An individual kneeling down and touching a growing plant.

Engineering senior capstone project tackles water pollution

Ten Elon engineering seniors completed a year-long research and design project aimed at monitoring and improving water quality in retention ponds and reservoirs.

Access to clean water is essential to survival on the planet — and is one of the National Academy of Engineering’s 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering. One of the leading threats to clean water is excess nitrogen and phosphorous from lawn and agricultural fertilizers. Those nutrients lead to toxic algae blooms, which kill fish and wildlife and threaten drinking water.

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The capstone project used vegetation and student-designed sensors deployed on constructed floating wetlands modules to mitigate those chemicals. Under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Engineering Scott Wolter and Assistant Professor of Engineering Jonathan Su, three teams of seniors developed electrochemical, gas-phase combinatorial and optical sensors designed to be installed on or near the floating wetlands. Those sensors detect nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane and other substances in water or released by vegetation. Collaborating with Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Brant Touchette, students researched and grew plants that thrive on and remove excess nutrients in runoff to plant on the modules.

Their completed computerized sensor prototypes function comparably to commercial instruments costing as much as $10,000 at a fraction of that cost — less than $200 each. Their economical designs are the starting point of ongoing water quality projects the program will tackle. Future students will continue to design, develop and test various aspects of water quality using the sensors and modules deployed around Elon’s campus.

STEM programs partner with Project Lead the Way

Engineering faculty and Admissions established Elon University as an official partner of Project Lead the Way, which develops STEM curricula for more than 12,000 K-12 schools nationwide.

Project Lead the Way targets high school students interested in STEM careers through courses and assessments in engineering, computer science and biomedical sciences. This partnership establishes an admissions pipeline for all of Elon’s engineering and STEM programs. Partnering with Project Lead the Way puts the College’s brand of STEM programs in front of driven, engaged students — who have already indicated strong interest and aptitude for STEM subjects — as they apply to colleges. It also provides the Elon Admissions team greater access to a large and previously untapped pool of bright and talented math, science and technology students from all 50 states.

Engineering program continues ABET accreditation process

Faculty in the four-year engineering program gathered and evaluated information about curricula, goals, student outcomes and facilities in pursuit of ABET accreditation. Faculty will complete the required self-study in summer 2021 while preparing for a fall 2021 virtual visit by ABET’s accreditation team. The program was accepted into ABET’s 2020-21 accreditation cycle, which was postponed due to the pandemic.

ABET accreditation signifies that a collegiate program has met essential standards to prepare graduates to lead the way in innovation, emerging technologies, and in anticipating the welfare and safety needs of the public around the world. The accreditation would apply to all previous four-year engineering graduates.