University of Vermont

College of
Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

Engineering vision 2020: CEMS outreach

Release Date: 02-06-2007

Author: Dawn Marie Densmore
Phone: Array Fax: 802-656-8802

Earth's sustainability will challenge the engineers of 2020.Earth's sustainability and the roles of population growth, water quality, disease prevention, food distribution and renewable energy resources will continue to challenge the engineers of 2020 who are currently elementary, middle and high school students.

These future engineers will need new strategies for engineering technology to create sustainability for the planet. "Solutions to the critical issues facing humanity, no matter how technologically laden, will require broad thinking beyond any one discipline," says Domenico Grasso, Dean of the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS).

U.S. students falling behind

But according to Albert J. Simone, president of Rochester Institute of Technology, students are falling behind at even the most basic level. "The current public education system at the K-12 level is broken," he stated in a recent report, "Tough Choices, Tough Times," prepared by the new Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. The report goes on to say,

The first Commission never dreamed that we would end up competing with countries that could offer large numbers of highly educated workers willing to work for low wages. Whereas for most of the 20th century the United States could take pride in having the best-educated workforce in the world, that is no longer true. Over the past 30 years one country after another has surpassed us in the proportion of their entering workforce with the equivalent of a high school diploma, and many more are on the verge of doing so. Thirty years ago, the United State could lay claim to having 30 percent of the world's population of college students. Today that proportion has fallen to 14 percent and is continuing to fall. While our international counterparts are increasingly getting more education, their young people are getting a better education as well. American students and young adults place anywhere from the middle to the bottom of the pack in all three continuing comparative studies of achievement in mathematics, science, and general literacy in the advanced industrial nations.

We have failed to motivate most of our students to take tough courses and work hard, thus missing one of the most important drivers of success in the best-performing nations.... [T]oo often our testing system rewards students who will be good at routine work, while not providing opportunities for students to display creative and innovative thinking and analysis.

In addition to these unsettling facts, a 2003 Trends International Mathematics and Science Report shows United States 8th graders ranking 15th in average mathematical scale scores, behind Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Belgium-Flemish, Netherlands, Estonia, Hungary, Malaysia, Latvia, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic and Australia. Another eye opener is a 1998 Harris poll which shows that 53 percent of Americans have no understanding of what engineering is.

UVM CEMS making a difference — Reaching students, impacting schools

The University of Vermont's College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences is dedicated to making a difference in reversing these disturbing trends.

UVM/GIV Engineering Poster PresentationsUVM CEMS is leading the way through a variety of outreach programs for elementary, middle and high school students, featuring engineering, mathematics, computer science and other technology-related, hands-on projects that challenge students to be creative and innovative thinkers.

Through their participation in these programs, students gain an understanding of the importance of engineering technology to our world and learn the necessary skills to succeed in a more complex, technologically advanced world.

Mathematics: The foundation stone
The UVM CEMS Department of Mathematics and Statistics leads the way with over 50 years of outreach activities that challenge students. Mathcounts, the UVM High School Math Contest, and the Governor's Institute in Mathematical Sciences give students a foundation for college-level courses. "A total of 42 schools participated in Mathcounts in 2006," says Professor Jean-Guy Beliveau, "and one of our students has won 2nd in the country."

The Global Challenge
Over 2600 students from 50 countries signed up and formed teams for the 2006 challenge to create science, technology, engineering, mathematics and business solutions that address global climate change and the future of energy. Awards include scholarships from $1000 to $4000.

Established in 2005 by The Arno Group in partnership with UVM CEMS, The Global Challenge engages parents, teachers, students and the community in a high-impact educational experience that teaches about complex systems and global engineering challenges while enhancing K-12 education and strengthening the pipeline of students entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Recently funded by the ITEST program of the National Science Foundation, the project leverages existing online resources and networks and works collaboratively with other programs, such as UVM's Design TASC and the Engineering Summer Institute.

Engineers Week
College outreach activities include challenges connected with National Engineers Week for elementary, middle and high school students. The Vermont Air National Guard in conjunction with UVM CEMS sponsored the one-day activities on Friday, February 2, 2007. Students brought edible cars, pasta bridges, roof trusses, passive helicopters and bottle rockets to be tested for award recognition at the Vermont National Air Guard location.

Sponsors included UVM student societies: Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for edible cars; American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) for pasta bridges; American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) for bottle rockets; and the Dean's Student Council for roof trusses and passive helicopters.

UVM Design TASC/TOY Technology/Tech-Knowledge Fair
"Engineering provides students with the opportunity to see how technology impacts society," says Domenico Grasso, Dean of UVM CEMS. This theme of societal relevance for engineering has transformed the UVM Design TASC (Technology and Society Connection) with projects that have an impact on our world. In 2006, P.E.G. (Potential Electric Generation) By Humans asked students to create devices that produced human electrical energy to grind corn and create a 20-volt light display.

Another challenge called T.O.Y. (Teaching Our Youth) Technology has been added to TASC. Students in T.O.Y. teach engineering technology subjects to elementary and middle school students, then bring their lesson plans to UVM for presentations and awards. TASC and TOY occur on the first Saturday in December together with a Tech-Knowledge Fair for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The Tech-Knowledge Fair offers hands-on projects on a variety of topics, such as aviation, computer science, metals, geology, surveying, photography, space exploration, radio communications, veterinary medicine, architecture and riflery. In 2007, presentations will also include forestry and dentistry.

"Scheduling multiple outreach programs on the same day minimizes expenditures and provides students with the opportunity to see other students' engineering accomplishments," says Dawn Densmore, Director of Outreach and Public Relations.

The Governor's Institutes of Vermont (GIV)
GIV offers seven summer Institutes, two within the College: The Engineering Institute and the Mathematics Institute. Both Institutes challenge students to see the world from a different perspective, enabling them to understand how mathematics and engineering impact the world. Students are housed at UVM for one week and participate in daily activities that maximize interests and team skills.

UVM/GIV participant working on a robotThe UVM/GIV Engineering Institute provides four hands-on projects: biomass, wind energy, robotics and aeronautical engineering. Tours of engineering facilities, guest speakers, and faculty presentations are offered throught the program. "I now understand the importance of engineering to the world," said one participant, Erika Hango. "To bring access to innovations to all people of the world."

The Governor's Institute in Mathematical Sciences enrolls thirty of the most outstanding mathematics and science high school students from schools in Vermont. Topics covered in the program include probability and statistics, number theory, introduction to Mathematica, as well as topics in astronomy and tournament scheduling.

Transportation tuition-free program
UVM CEMS also offers a National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI), sponsored by the Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Vermont Department of Transportation. This is a tuition-free day program focused on the field of transportation. "This program fills a critical need for students interested in understanding the field of engineering transportation," says NSTI Director, Professor John Aleong.

Sharing the vision

Support for UVM's outreach programs comes from businesses such as IBM, General Dynamics, Husky, IEEE, Pizzagalli, TIAA-CREF and Verizon, as well as many engineering firms.

Lt. Governor Brian Dubie opened the 2006 UVM/GIV Engineering Poster Presentations at the South Burlington University Mall by stating, "These exciting hands-on projects generate interest in technology careers — clearly we need to find more ways to highlight Vermont's incredible technological opportunities."

Vermont Department of Education Commissioner Richard Cate says, "These programs provide learning experiences that encourage team work styles." Doug Nadeau, a teacher at Barre Regional Vocational Technical Center adds, "The benefit to students and teachers cannot be measured." UVM/CEMS is also aligned with nationally recognized programs such as Odyssey of the Mind, and recruits engineers from IBM and General Dynamics to assist as mentors for students.

Incorporating diversity

Building upon and reinforcing diversity is also a priority in UVM CEMS outreach. "Outreach programs are essential in ensuring we enroll a diverse student body in CEMS, who can eventually contribute and have a more inclusive and informed impact on the global community," explains Josephine Herrera, Director of Diversity and Special Programs. "My goal is to ensure students realize their aspirations while contributing their unique ideas, skills and talents to the community at large."

Right place/right time

UVM CEMS outreach programs act as bridges to technology awareness and provide the skills necessary to compete in a new world. As the "Tough Choices, Tough Times" report states:

It is a world in which comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job, in which creativity and innovation are the key to the good life, in which high levels of education — a very different kind of education than most of us have had — are going to be the only security there is.

"The greatest reward is for students go full circle — from being a student in a program, to becoming a counselor, to supporting an outreach program as a mentor," says Densmore. A case in point is Charles Bombard, now an LAN/Systems Administrator at Community College of Vermont, who was a TASC participant in 1992 and has been a volunteer since 1993. "It's great to see the determination in student faces as they work out last-minute problems," says Bombard. "I remember when I was in their place. It's very satisfying to see the reactions when hard work has paid off."

The poet William Butler Yeats said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." UVM CEMS outreach programs create a fire that lasts a lifetime — far beyond the year 2020.