Obama Encourages Engineering Students To Stay With It
March 19, 2012 Jenny Thomas
Getting an engineering degree is hard. The work involved in obtaining one is not to be taken lightly, but the rewards awaiting graduates are worth the effort required. That was the consensus among panel members at a live Facebook Webcast last week, which was held in conjunction with the launch of Stay With It, an online resource to support engineering students in an effort to increase the number of engineering graduates from U.S. universities and colleges.
“The inventions and creativity of our nation’s engineers will be a key driver of the American economy and pivotal in securing our role as the world’s leading innovator,” said Paul Otellini, a jobs councilmember and president and CEO of Intel, who participated in the Facebook Webinar. “For this reason, we must find ways to continue inspiring young engineers, and increase the pipeline of talent to American businesses. Stay With It is designed to show students their potential and support them through a rigorous educational journey.”
The demands of that journey to an engineering degree have resulted in fewer engineers coming out of our nation’s universities. According to the folks at Stay With It, currently only 14 percent of all U.S. undergraduates are studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. After the first year, 40 percent of those enrolled in these disciplines switch majors. And the annual number of engineering graduates has virtually stagnated at around 120,000.
“President Obama has repeatedly stressed the need to fill the engineering gap and he has made it one of the highest priorities of his council on jobs and competitiveness,” said Charles Bolden, NASA administrator and former astronaut, who also participated in the recent Facebook Webcast. “At NASA, our needs for workers across aerospace in the coming decades will be great. Stay With It is an unprecedented public private partnership to address a skills crisis that will shape our nation’s future.”
Since one of the biggest challenges in turning out more engineers is getting students to stick with their chosen major through to graduation, the Facebook Webinar was intended to bring engineering students face-to-face with people who stayed the course and are now putting their engineering degrees to good use. The Webinar panel participants shared personal stories specifically about challenges they overcame on their way to obtaining a degree in engineering in hopes of encouraging current students of continuing through to graduation.
After an opening inspirational message from President Obama, the first group of panelists, which included Otellini, Bolden, and dean of engineering at Georgia Tech Dr. Gary May, talked about the paths they took to earn their engineering degrees, and what they believe it takes to graduate.
In addition to hard work and dedication, the panelists agreed that students need to find ways to interact with engineers in the workforce, particularly through internships. “Students with access to mentors stay in longer,” said May.
That theme carried into the next group of panelists, which included Serkan Piantino, an engineering manager at Facebook. Piantino strongly recommended students go after internships and get some experience learning to build something. “There are things that you don’t learn in school that can be helpful,” he said.
Piantino also had some encouraging words for the students in the crowd and watching online. “Engineering degrees are hard. There’s no way around it,” he said, and then he reminded students that engineering degrees are a pathway to shaping the future. “Google, smartphones, Facebook, etc., didn’t exist a few years ago. Statistically, one of you watching this Facebook live event now will build one of these awesome things that the next generation will use every day.”
When asked specifically what types of jobs might be available at Facebook, Piantino said, “We’re predominately looking for software engineers.”
The Stay With It program has an initial goal of yielding 10,000 more engineering graduates in the United States each year, and believes it can meet that number by starting with increasing the retention and graduation rates of students who are currently enrolled in engineering disciplines. The student outreach portion of the campaign is looking to connect students with experienced engineers through a national online community.
More than 65 companies have already agreed to double their internships, which will create more than 7,000 opportunities for hands-on, technical job experience, representing a $70 million commitment. Colleges and universities around the country, including California State University at Sacramento, Cornell University, Duke University, New York Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, Santa Clara University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Florida, University of Hawaii, University of Kentucky, University of Maryland, University of Nevada, Reno, and Virginia Tech, are committed to hosting viewing parties to keep the encouragement flowing to and help engineering students . . . stay with it.
While the IBM i is actually older than most of the students currently pursuing engineering degrees, there is no telling how it might benefit from some fresh young minds. It’s easy to see how a growing crop of engineering graduates could result in a better future for all of us.