Now is the time of year when I start looking seriously at the numbers of accepted applicants into SEAS, and delve into the statistics about where they are coming from and what their anticipated major within our school is. Do we mirror national trends in terms of growing specialties, or is some internal dynamic causing students to flock to one major over another? How many of our students come from out of state, what percentage are women, how many foreign students enroll here? What is our retention rate year by year? These and other metrics are all indicators – one might say diagnostic tools – that deans pore over as they gauge the visibility and the competitiveness of their programs. But of course there are more active approaches that can be employed to influence these numbers, and one of those methods is what I want to focus on here.
Outreach to secondary schools is very important these days. It is no secret that engineering and computer science programs in colleges and universities are experiencing steady growth as more college students recognize the value of a strong technical education. Traditionally we would then look to the secondary schools to provide a strong foundation in math and sciences to prepare their graduates for the rigors of our programs. But more recently those schools have been getting on the tech bandwagon by offering all sorts of classes in robotics and design, perhaps enhanced by 3D printing of parts and some programming of mechanisms. But while these kinds of activities certainly attract interested students and may well whet their appetite for study in our fields, the more necessary task from our perspective is the cultivation of the true approach to real-world problem solving, which begins with analysis and mathematical modeling leading up to design.
Engineers don’t build something and then just see if it works. They use the tools and skills they have learned in order to understand what the problem is, and how to analyze it before any hardware is shaped into a prototype. That being the case, we believe that our first year course ENGG 010: Computer Programming for Engineers offers an ideal preparation for advanced and motivated high school students wishing to enter SEAS with their minds attuned to the craft of engineering. Unlike the stereotypical programming course which drags the student through the intricacies of code writing, ENGG 010 introduces them to MATLAB and LabVIEW so that they can analyze, visualize and model real-world physical systems quickly.
We are currently working with high school districts locally to train science instructors to teach this course on their own campuses with the students then gaining credit toward their SEAS engineering degree at Hofstra. Some of our senior faculty are adapting the current syllabus so that pre-college students get the maximum out of it, and we hope to implement it in the upcoming school year. A regularly offered summer week-long tutorial for prospective teachers will be offered under our auspices.
As I indicated earlier, national trends are currently favorable for our programs, but those of us who have been educators for decades know that downturns occur as well. Having a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship with secondary schools in a locality is one way to ensure that university programs can guarantee a steady influx of talented aspiring engineers and computer scientists who continue to challenge us as professionals irrespective of national trends.