U works to attract tech students

The University is one of eight institutions to receive part of a $10 million research grant.

Mehgan Lee

The University and eight other higher-education institutions received grants last month that will enable them to research teaching methods that will attract students to science and engineering.

The $10 million grant helped create the National Center for Engineering and Technology Education. The center, which Utah State University manages, links four research universities, five technology teacher education universities, 15 K-12 school districts and three education associations.

The center will attempt to address the national decline in engineering and science students, said Director Christine Hayley, associate dean of the College of Engineering at Utah State University.

“There is a national decline in people who are interested in engineering and science careers,” said Theodore Lewis, a co-author of the grant proposal and University professor of work, community and family education.

However, the University’s official registration statistics from the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting do not reflect the decline. According to the statistics, from fall 1999 to fall 2003, there was a 9.1 percent increase in enrolled students at the University.

During the same time period, enrollment in the Institute of Technology increased by 7.7 percent. Enrollment in the College of Biological Sciences jumped 76.4 percent.

Science and engineering careers are necessary for the United States to remain economically competitive in the world, Hayley said.

“It’s very important for us to be leaders in generating intellectual capital,” she said. “Manufacturing jobs are going overseas. We must continue to possess the people with the ideas for the manufacturing.”

Researchers at the center will study how to effectively teach technology education classes, formerly known as industrial arts, in a way that engages and attracts students, Hayley said.

“We want to very early on demystify engineering and provide experience in the curriculum that mimics engineering,” Lewis said.

“We’re trying to transform the teaching of that subject in school to add curriculum features that will help students learn about engineering careers,” he said.

During the next five years, the center will try to produce 20 doctoral students and 50 graduate students in technology education, Lewis said.

“We are going to produce the next generation of leaders in technology education,” Hayley said.

Five of the center’s doctoral students will come from the University, Lewis said. The center will provide the students with fellowships, which are similar to teaching assistant positions, he said.

The students will conduct research and attend national conferences and seminars in exchange for tuition support, Lewis said. Grant money will be used to pay for the tuition support, he said.

The University received $792,063 of the grant money, Lewis said. But when the University receives grants, it usually uses 40 percent to 50 percent of that for administrative costs, he said.

The grant came from the National Science Foundation.