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Saturday, May 12, 2007

By JAMES T. HAMMOND - jhammond@thestate.com

Benedict College will award its first five electrical engineering degrees today in a program that will now be eligible to seek accreditation, and for which dean Stacey Jones has high hopes.

The private, historically black college in the heart of Columbia will award those new degrees among the 280 it plans to hand out today in Charlie W. Johnson Stadium. Ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. at the stadium on Two Notch Road at Read Street. The speaker for the commencement is U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

Jones, who has master's degrees in math and science from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in computer sciences from George Washington University, can hardly contain her pride in the five graduates, all of whom plan to enter graduate school.

The five earned scores between 730 and 790 on the Graduate Record Exam, for which 800 is a perfect score in math.

Jones aims to prove that students can excel at an institution that has an open admissions policy, which means Benedict accepts students with marginal academic backgrounds.

Adura Sopeju, who transferred to Benedict from the University of Lagos in Nigeria, has 10 scholarship offers, seven of which are fully funded, from universities including Virginia, Florida, Cornell University and Purdue. And, he has participated in research at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, where Benedict plans to send more engineering students for hands-on experience.

The five students also have had opportunities to interact with students from engineering powerhouses like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech and Cornell.

They say they often feel a lack of respect for the Benedict program, and they plead with the engineering world to give them a chance to prove themselves.

"Don't judge us until you see what we've done," said graduate Aderele Fapohunda.

Some people automatically think they'd prefer someone from MIT," Fapohunda said. "Just give us a chance."

Jones said that, for starters, her electrical engineering program was approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a key accreditation agency.

The program can now seek accreditation by ABET Inc., the recognized accrediting agency for college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering and technology.

New programs such as the one at Benedict do not become eligible to apply for ABET accreditation until they have graduated their first class. Benedict will now begin that process, and hopes to complete it by 2009.

None of the faculty at Benedict are licensed professional engineers, the designation that allows engineers to put P.E. after their name. But Jones and professor Taan S. ElAli are accredited by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.

The students say the academic rigor at Benedict is high.

"The program at Benedict is probably as good as any other school," Sopeju said. "We get copies of exams from other schools and we can solve all the problems."

Oluleye Olorode has been accepted for graduate school at the University of Southern California, by two universities in Britain, and has received several job offers.

Professor ElAli said his students are already solving problems associated with magnetic fields that surround alternating current circuits used in close proximity to medical imaging devices.

Jones believes these students will begin to build a positive reputation in the engineering world for a small, new program

"Before they step off our campus, they are already considered experts in their field," Jones said.

Source: The State Newspaper