2023 Dual Degree students | WashU Photo

Dual Degree Program celebrates 50 years

The program has welcomed more than 2,600 students since its creation in 1973

Danielle Lacey  • 2023 Fall issue

In the fall of 1973, the Dual Degree Program, then known as the Three-Two Plan, at the engineering school welcomed its first student. Fifty years later, the program is seeing record enrollment and graduating more than 100 students a year. 

Washington University in St. Louis was among the first in the country to offer such a program, which allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in another field from select affiliated liberal arts institutions in three years, then a bachelor’s degree in engineering at WashU in two years.

It was the school’s namesake who brought the program to campus after observing a similar initiative at another university. 

“James McKelvey Sr. was a key person in the early seventies in getting the program going,” said Ron Laue, senior associate dean of the Dual Degree Program. “He felt the communication and critical thinking skills students received at liberal arts schools would make them excellent engineering candidates.”

Harold Brown, former associate dean at the engineering school, was also instrumental in the program’s development and early recruiting efforts. The school awards 10 Harold P. Brown Engineering Fellowships to deserving Dual Degree students each academic year.

“Offering a financially supported pathway for students to enter engineering school helps McKelvey Engineering diversify its population, our partner schools attract STEM-oriented applicants and our graduates prepare for a wide range of opportunities,” said Scott Crawford, assistant dean of the Dual Degree Program.

Program staff rely on the close relationships they build with faculty at more than 100 affiliated institutions across the country, and much of their recruitment is done by word of mouth.

“What makes our program unique is that the people who recruit our students work with them as their advisers,” said Kate Whitaker, program coordinator of the Dual Degree Program. “We can say we worked with each and every student from application to graduation.”

Dual Degree students tend to form strong cohorts due to their shared experiences as older undergraduate students attending a new university. As a result, they tend to have higher rates of retention compared to traditional first-year students; 90% of Dual Degree students remain in McKelvey Engineering compared with 85% of traditional first-year students.

“I appreciate working with Dual Degree students because they are engaged and ready to take advantage of all the resources WashU has to offer from day one,” Laue said. Since its establishment, more than 2,300 students have graduated from the Dual Degree Program at McKelvey Engineering. Alumni of the program include Chiamaka Asinugo, lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science; Lance Cage, executive vice president of Alberici Constructors Inc.; Steve Sands, managing director, vice chairman of investment banking and chairman of the Global Healthcare Group at Lazard; Libby Allman, vice president operations, TVH; and Arnold Donald, former president, CEO and chief climate officer of Carnival Corp. & plc.

Looking ahead, program staff say goals for the program include increasing the program’s visibility at a national level, continuing to grow enrollment and diversifying the Dual Degree student body.

A gathering to celebrate the program’s 50th anniversary is being planned for Spring 2024.

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