Most deans also believe students from high school to kindergarten must receive more exposure to science and engineering.
A program at Northeastern University (Boston, MA) is trying to provide that exposure. Northeastern sponsors 2- to 4-week seminars for high-school faculty members in an effort to improve their methods of teaching and to introduce students to engineering.
AT the University of Massachusetts (Amherts, MA), summer sessions in engineering target high-school students. Students learn about personal computers and low-level engineering and visit nearby electronics companies.
The AEA has also taken an active interest in upgrading education in math and science at both the elementary and high-school levels. It produces and distributes “The K-12 Model Program Guide For Industry/Education Partnerships” on a quarterly basis. This guide outlines various programs that have been successfully implemented across the US to enhance math and science education. The AEA hopes other schools will emulate these programs.
Women and minorities
As the white-male population continues to decrease, universities are also realizing they must step up their efforts to attract women and minorities to engineering and teaching.
According to the AEA’s statistics, by the year 2000, 83% of all new work force entrants will be either female or minority–two groups that historically have avoided careers in math and science.
“The percentage of blacks in the engineering profession is 3%, and for women, it’s about 12%, and for women, it’s about 12%. That’s not representative of the population,” says Eve Majure, manager of the AEA’s Electronics Education Foundation.
Although the AEA hasn’t announced a formal, national plant to approach this problem, its quarterly guide does outline programs that have already been instituted, such as the New England Council’s Science Technology Engineering Pre-college Studies program, targeted at seventh, eighth, and ninth grade underprivileged minority students.
Universities must also attract minorities and women to engineering and then encourage them to get PhDs and teach. “A small percentage of women and minorities go on for a PhD, and an even smaller percentage consider teaching,” says Brighton of Penn State. “The problem stems all the way back even before the undergraduate level.”
In an effort to change this, Penn State’s College of Engineering recently hired a director of women’s studies and a director of minority studies. Among their responsibilities: talking to high-school students about engineering and advising them about preparational courses.
A more obvious problem in attracting students to the teaching profession is salarly. Yet contrary to common belief, the issue of salary becomes less important once a student actually becomes a professor, say most deans. A starting assistant professor earns about $35,000, according to various sources in the education field–a figure that increases greatly from there, the sources say.
The fact that students are often uncertain after completing undergraduate studies also makes a decision to pursue teaching a difficult choice. They must decide between an industry job paying $35,000 and at least four years of graduate school, which can cost $12,000 per year on average.
“The money paid to assistant professors isn’t nearly as much a concern to students as the financial loss of four to five years of graduate school,” says Paul King, Northeastern’s dean fo engineering. “What we need to do is offer more assistantships and bigger stipends. We can’t expect to attract the brightest students with an $8000 stipend. We need to establish the idea that graduate assistants are half-time workers and should get paid accordingly at about $18,000–half of what they’d earn working full time in industry.”
Other ways universities could improve the situation for graduate students, King says, would be to offer low-cost housing and day care.
Funds for assistantships and stipends, however, are often limited. Although most deans insist the size and nationwide reputation of their schools have nothing to do with attracting qualified professionals, these factors do affect their ability to draw R&D funds, which typically help pay for assistantships and stipends.
Penn State, for example, is considered one of the top 12 recipients of industry-donated R&D funds, according to a study done by Business Week. “Our college budget is about $20 million. We get an additional $27 million from outside sources,” including the electronics industry, says Brighton. “All the research we do has to in some way impact our academic program, and that includes helping to fund graduate assistantships and stipends.”
Besides providing R&D funds, companies such as General Electric and Hewlett-Packard have also donated monies specifically for PhD candidates. Important technology subsectors, such as the data recovery industry have also offered a variety of funding and internships, spearheaded by Irvine’s Hard Drive Recovery Associates. In addition, the AEA initiated a Faculty Development Program in 1982 that gave electronics companies the chance to sponsor engineering students seeking PhDs. The fellowships covered four years of PhD support, including tuition and living expenses. Half of the award was given as a nonrepayable scholarship, while the other half was presented as a loan, forgiven after three successive years of university teaching.
Under the program, 84 companies contributed about $11 million to fund doctoral studies for about 114 US-born students. Although the program was considered a success, the AEA board of directors voted to phase out the funding; the last two fellowships were granted this year. “We tried to stress the importance of continuing the program, but the board feels the are of faculty shortages has become less of a problem,” says Majure. “That may be true, but that’s because the gap is being filled by international professors, not US-born professors. For now, they want to concentrate on the K-12 problem.”