Alabama Public Schools Offer High School Engineering Model
It is great to see ASEE and Prism begin to focus on the efforts being made in K–12 education to prepare students who wish to pursue a college degree in engineering [Annual Report, February 2021 Prism]. One significant pre-university effort is occurring at the public high school level. The process began in 1996 but did not reach its full potential until 2004 when Hoover (Alabama) High School began its four-year Engineering Academy taught by degreed engineers. A couple of years later, a four-year Engineering Academy taught by degreed engineers was started at the other high school in the Hoover School System, Spain Park. Now the Engineering Academy concept has been adopted by Thompson High School in Alabaster, Alabama—again headed by a degreed engineer.
Each of the three public high schools has allowed the engineering faculty to cover core subjects in addition to engineering. At Hoover High, the engineering faculty also teach physics and chemistry. At Spain Park, the engineering faculty also teach math and computer science courses. At Thompson High, the engineering faculty also teach computer science courses. In this way, engineering content and applications are integrated into related subjects being taken by academy students.
The four-year high school engineering curriculum addresses Introduction to Solid Modeling and Engineering Design in the freshman year, Engineering Instrumentation and Analysis in the sophomore year, Engineering Computations in the junior year, and Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship in the senior year. These four courses can be broken down into approximately 85 percent engineering science content and 15 percent engineering design content.
The first part of the Engineering Design course involves going deeper into the engineering design process. Some of the material is from Stanford’s “d.school” and teaches students about common tools used to help define a problem and how to interact with clients. Business principles are also introduced (with an eye toward entrepreneurship) and then additional topics are woven into discussions as the students progress through short-term and then long-term design projects.
The goal is to have each group go from problem definition to multiple prototypes to a final “product” by the end of the school year. Students also are required to look at the business side of their product, considering the potential target market, production costs, revenue streams, etc.
Over the three high schools, the engineering degrees of the faculty cover the breadth of engineering—aerospace, biomedical, chemical, civil, materials, and mechanical (with one mechanical engineer also having taught electrical engineering courses at the university level). Four of the faculty members hold master’s degrees in engineering and two hold doctorate degrees. The curriculum being used was uniquely prepared for high school students by degreed engineers and has been validated by the engineering programs in regional universities who are aggressively recruiting the graduates of these public high school programs.
Currently, three semesters of the curriculum used by the three high schools are being marketed to homeschooled students nationwide under the title Catapult Engineering Academy (www.catapultea.com). These students are being mentored by graduates of the Hoover High and Spain Park Engineering Academies who are pursuing undergraduate engineering degrees at Auburn University. The mentors serve as instructional assistants and aid the students in understanding how the course content that they are studying in high school is preparing them for the university course content in engineering.
Again, thank you to Prism and ASEE for giving emphasis to pre-engineering education in the K–12 environment.
David A. Conner
Professor Emeritus, Chair Emeritus
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Study Needed to Grow Domestic Graduate Students
I want to compliment Prism for publishing the timely “Double Jeopardy” article in the February 2021 issue. In the January 2018 Prism magazine, I wrote a Last Word article in which I outlined a need for the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to do a study of how to get more domestic students into engineering graduate programs, particularly for the Ph.D. degree and becoming future faculty members. I was concerned at that time because the policies of the federal government were starting to be more restrictive on visas for foreign students, and restricting foreign students before increasing the number of domestic students would cause an imbalance between supply and demand for Ph.D. graduates for industry, government, and universities in the future.
Then in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, causing further decreases in foreign students enrolling as engineering graduate students, as the February 2021 article discusses. I thought the quote on p. 27 was particularly clear about what universities face: “Universities’ overreliance on international students to supply tuition, scientific labor, and future faculty ranked high among Tandon dean Kovačević’s concerns in 2019. A partial solution, she believes, is attracting more domestic students into engineering graduate programs.” I think this is clearly what the problem is and what needs to be studied!
My January 2018 article outlined a number of things that could be done to increase the number of domestic students in engineering graduate programs, but I thought that there was a need for a prestigious organization such as NAE to form a committee of experts to study the problem and make recommendations that would then get wide acceptance by the government, industry, and university administrations.
Prism has done a service to the engineering community in publishing this article. I now think the engineering leaders of the United States need to provide leadership in helping to secure funds from organizations such as the National Science Foundation to do an NAE study that would get broad acceptance and come up with findings and recommendations. The opinions of Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, need to also be studied. In his recent book Post-Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity, he has stated, “I have devoted an entire chapter to higher education, as I believe it is on the cusp of transformative change.”
Presidential Professor Emeritus
Michigan Technological University
Teach Parents and Guidance Counselors About Engineering
I have been a fan of Henry Petroski for many years. In the February 2021 issue, his column [“Choosing a Major”] really rang my bell.
For my 50+ years in engineering and as an inventor and STEM/technology education enthusiast, I have worked with teachers, students, and publishers to bring the excitement of engineering into the classroom. I have conducted career days and team-based competitions, written engineering activity books, and done just about everything to get the word out about engineering to grades 4–12. Since retiring early, I appear regularly in local schools and teach mini-engineering seminars as part of continuing education events for teachers.
There is no doubt that young folks and even engineering students need to hear more about engineering, what engineers do, and how our profession affects the world and raises the standard of living for all humans the world over.
Yes, a parent’s perception of engineering can be a serious roadblock. Maybe school-to-career efforts in lower schools should involve students and their parents? Could career days in school highlight what engineers do and the role played by engineers in society? Do guidance counselors in high school really know about the engineering profession? Do they guide students toward engineering?
Why not assign readings about the engineering profession to incoming high school seniors, and also to college freshmen and sophomores to get them ready for the profession? Then some engineering ethics in junior and senior year? How about ASEE members writing more about engineering as a profession?
Harry T. Roman
East Orange, New Jersey