PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo - APRIL 2005 - VOLUME 14, NUMBER 8
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A More Arduous Pursuit

By Rep. Bart Gordon

ENGINEERING SCHOOLS NEED TO AGGRESSIVELY COURT TODAY'S STUDENTS BY SHOWING THEM HOW ATTRACTIVE AN ENGINEERING CAREER CAN BE.

Two recent international studies ranked American high school students near the bottom in math and science performance. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked math proficiency of U.S. students at 24th out of 29 industrialized countries. It also confirms other assessment data that show the gap between American students and their counterparts in Europe and Asia widens at the high school level. The other study, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS), has similar findings, although it does suggest American students are making gains in math and science skills. These reports indicate we need more emphasis on math and science education and teacher training.

These studies should be a wakeup call to accelerate changes now underway. I applaud engineering schools for their outreach efforts to high schools and for the many creative hands-on experiences they—and engineering societies—are developing to give high school students a taste of what the engineering profession has to offer.

I hope engineering schools, individually and collectively, will move beyond piecemeal activities to true partnerships with high schools. Curriculum coordination is much less developed between high schools and engineering schools than in science and pure mathematics. High school calculus emphasizes mathematical proofs, but does not include practical problems from an engineering setting. Can't our engineering curriculum experts restructure existing AP courses and exams to make them relevant to engineering schools and perhaps develop an AP Introduction to Engineering course?

It also is important for individual engineering schools to work as closely as possible with the high schools that send them engineering students because they are part of an educational supply chain. Let me use a rough analogy. Major industrial companies are linked in real time to their suppliers. They routinely exchange information along the supply chain and solve problems as a team. Just as defective or mismatched parts from a supplier are wasted in an industrial setting, both remedial coursework and quality high school work that doesn't match the engineering school's curriculum are academic waste to be avoided.

Award-winning universities, such as Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner University of Wisconsin at Stout, are good examples of how educational supply chains can work. Wisconsin-Stout's close working relationship with Wisconsin high schools and two-year technical colleges allows incoming students to enter with relevant coursework and permits Wisconsin-Stout to better anticipate the needs of the at-risk students it enrolls. Then, after matriculation, more than two-thirds of the engineering students move down the supply chain and gain business experience while in school through cooperative programs with industry. Wisconsin-Stout's close relations with industry have led to frequent curriculum revisions and new degree programs geared at the needs of their students' future employers. Wisconsin-Stout now has a significantly higher graduation rate than comparable schools.

Finally, engineering schools need to show junior high students and their parents that there are interesting, high-paying jobs available to those who keep up their math and science studies. Tennessee Tech, for instance, has been working with the Girl Scouts and local schools and has seen its technology camp for junior high girls grow from 75 to 300 students in just three years. Rather than waiting for students to come to them, more engineering schools need to actively court today's students.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) is the ranking minority member on the House Science Committee.

 

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THE NEXT REVOLUTION - By Lucille Craft
SEND IN THE ENGINEERS - By Thomas K. Grose
FROM THE WHITE HOUSE TO THE PRESIDENCY - By Alvin P. Sanoff
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TECH VIEW: On the Right Track - By Mary Kathleen Flynn
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A NEW OPTION - A new breed of engineer works in the financial markets and develops products that predict returns and assess risk. - By Thomas K. Grose
FACULTY'S FINEST: Kimberly Jones
ON CAMPUS: A Higher Vision - By Lynne Shallcross
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LAST WORD: A More Arduous Pursuit - By Rep. Bart Gordon
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