UB Participates In National Program to Promote Engineering Awareness In High Schools

By Mara McGinnis

Release Date: March 18, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Information Technology Association of America reports a staggering 346,000 unfilled engineering positions exist nationwide.

At the same time, The Journal of College Science Teaching reports that 200,000 college freshmen drop out of engineering and science programs annually in the U.S., an indication that high-school graduates may be uninformed about the study of engineering and unprepared for the rigor and discipline it entails.

The University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is helping to combat this lack of awareness by participating in Project Lead the Way, a regional partnership among Western New York secondary schools, colleges, universities and industry to promote high-school level, pre-engineering education.

"It is our obligation as the major engineering school in the region to work with the local high schools and motivate the next generation of engineers." said Mark Karwan, dean of the UB engineering school. "This project is important because we have to expose students at the high-school level to engineering science in order for them to have an accurate idea and understanding of what it is."

The program addresses the need for highly skilled technology workers in the U.S. by providing partial funding and a framework to address important issues in technology training in secondary schools. It also includes a five-course sequence.

The mission of Project Lead the Way is to excite students about careers in engineering, while strengthening the link between traditional academic programs and hands-on learning experiences, according to Richard Blais, its national director.

The UB engineering school will serve as the link between the regional partnership team and the national oversight committee based in Clifton Park, near Albany.

Robert Barnes, associate dean for external affairs for the engineering school, is the project's regional coordinator for Western New York, while John Bunting, a retired teacher in the Lancaster Central School District, serves as assistant regional coordinator.

The Clarence and Lancaster school districts, the initial participants in the Western New York Region, will offer the accredited classes beginning in the fall.

The Western New York team is among six regional partnership teams in New York State and one in New Hampshire -- comprising 34 school districts -- that are participating in the program. While efforts so far have been concentrated in the Northeast, several school districts in other states have inquired about participation.

Blais, a former chair of the Technology Department in Shenendehowa Central School near Albany, founded Project Lead the Way in 1996.

"Colleges in the area were having problems attracting engineering students, so we implemented Project Lead the Way to increase the flow of students from high school to college in this field," he said. Blais noted that the project is the only national program of its kind designed to promote engineering at the high-school level.

Project coordinators have developed a five-course sequence that satisfies the New York State Regents requirements for a technology-track diploma. The courses are "Introduction to Engineering Design," "Digital Electronics," "Principles of Engineering," "Design and Rapid Prototyping" and "Engineering and Design."

Computer hardware, such as robotics equipment, and software, including Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) programs, will expose the students to basic technology used in the field.

Erie Community College is the designated regional training site for Project Lead the Way. Under the direction of ECC faculty, the lead industrial arts teacher of each participating high school will receive the training necessary to teach the approved curricula.

The project is one of several initiatives by the UB engineering school to promote engineering education in area high schools by familiarizing young students with principles of math, science and engineering.

In 1982, the engineering school co-founded the Buffalo-Area Engineering Awareness for Minorities (BEAM) program, dedicated to increasing minority representation in engineering. A consortium of Western New York companies, school districts and institutions of higher education, BEAM reaches more than 400 students per year through its diverse programs.

The UB engineering school also has been involved with several annual competitions for secondary students in Western New York that take place on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

For more information on any of these programs, contact Robert Barnes at (716) 645-2768.