Advancing the Image of Engineering One Audience at a Time

Simply Good or Great

Student College Experience: Sense of Belonging

In the news are two articles (see below): both about the engineering college experience. One – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) – near the top of the student engagement factor. The other – UC Berkeley – was hit with a wake up call.  It is clear which  university has embraced the  latest STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) research on the student college experience: keeping students’ engineering aspirations alive, building an inclusive environment, attracting and retaining engineering students.

To investigate further, I went to both university’s web pages to see how they brand their engineering departments and to see what would pop up if I did a “STEM” search. The Berkeley web pages show a lot of fascinating technology with a homogenous student population; the “STEM” search comes back with one hit: “STEM Cell Center” in reference to new technology. The WPI web pages show cool technology with a diverse look and feel; the “STEM”  search comes back with its own “STEM Education Center” including an extensive ‘explore the internet’ list of STEM education websites. I’m not saying that Berkeley falls under the “death by lecture” category, they are a good school, but I do wonder about their student college experience especially for under-represented populations. Something to consider when looking for schools. 

  • Why Science Majors Change their Minds  (It’s Just So Darn Hard) by Christopher Drew – Is a Nov 4th, 2011 New York Times article about the fundamental changes engineering schools can do to build engagement and help keep early aspirations alive.  Most of the early engineering courses do not match the image of what aspiring students have of engineering. Much of the fun engineering applications students might have learned from K-12 can turn to an all ”stale”  theory and “death by lecture”. The article advocates a relatively simple change, to add application to its curriculum.  Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has taken this simple concept and added in research, design and social-service in its design projects to their students curriculum. A direct recommendation from the College Student Experience in Why So Few?
  • Diversity Urged at UC Berkeley engineering school – is a Jan 4th, 2012 San Francisco Chronicle article about frustrated students who sense the lack of effort into helping the under-represented engineering students gain a sense of belonging.  Will the leadership’s platitudes turn into anything real?

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