Maurice Lanier fell in love with science in elementary school when he saw a robot that moved when people snapped their fingers.
Now the 25-year-old from Oxon Hill is studying to be an electrical engineer, and because of state approval this year of an engineering program at the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore, Mr. Lanier will be able to finish school at his home campus.
"It was the best news I'd ever gotten," Mr. Lanier, a junior, said of the state Higher Education Commission's approval of the engineering program for the university. Before, Maryland Eastern Shore students studying engineering completed their bachelor's degrees at the University of Maryland at College Park.
The program was approved at a time when alarms have been raised nationally about the scarcity of black engineers. Only about a dozen historically black colleges have engineering programs that are independent of formerly whites-only schools, and historically black Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta closed its engineering school last year.
"This is going to help us meet the emerging markets," said Ayodele Alade, dean of the university's School of Business and Technology, which includes the new engineering program. The lack of a four-year engineering program on the Eastern Shore, he said, "has impeded the level of progress in this region.
The program will also give the university more prestige, said Charles Williams, vice president for academic affairs.
"It's going to be fantastic for this university," he said, standing outside the program's new flight simulator, where aviation and engineering students learn about the mechanics of flight.
Not everyone is excited about the program, though. The state already has one of the nation's largest engineering schools at a historically black college, Morgan State University in Baltimore. Worried that another engineering program in the state would sap resources, Morgan State opposed the creation of a full program at the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore.
"If they put a program there and don't adequately fund that program, that is a concern," said Eugene M. DeLoatch, dean of the School of Engineering at Morgan State, which also offers masters' and doctoral degrees in engineering.
Mr. DeLoatch said he worries Morgan State and Maryland Eastern Shore may both be fighting for the same state dollars, "so we're all going to have mediocre engineers."
"We've got to adequately invest in our educational systems," Mr. DeLoatch said. "If that program opens up with inadequate funding, it's not going to have the effect we'd like it to have. These programs are not inexpensive to run, so I just think we should keep an eye on what it costs to run these programs."