Creating pathways to engineering success

Posted on 28. Sep, 2011 by in Annual Report, Beyond Boundaries, In Depth, Issues, Students

College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy with Engineering Summer Program students.

College of Engineering Dean Paul Peercy with Engineering Summer Program students. Photo: Jim Beal.

As the University of Wisconsin-Madison celebrates the “Year of the Wisconsin Idea,” recognizing a century of contributions to the greater public good, it’s worth reflecting on how ingrained that tradition has become in engineering.

The Wisconsin Idea drives us to extend the benefits of UW-Madison work to the citizens of the state and beyond. We see its expansive influence on areas such as healthcare, with new treatments, tools and services that improve quality of life. We also see it reflected in economic impact, through hundreds of spinoff companies and tens of thousands of talented, uniquely trained graduates making their mark on the world.

Here’s another perspective. This year, the Wisconsin Idea has come alive in the College of Engineering through unprecedented outreach to the next generation. As we detail in our 2011 Annual Report, this has been a transformative year in exposing young people to the possibilities of a career in science and engineering.

Why does this outreach matter? Because it’s at the top of the list of concerns of America’s largest employers, who require a greater infusion of talent in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in order to stay globally competitive. They need universities to help address a mismatch between current workforce skills and the skills required for new and emerging jobs. And they need a workforce that better represents the ethnic, cultural and gender diversity of the nation at large.

In 2011, we took this pursuit further than ever before. The centerpiece was hosting the 2011 National Science Olympiad competition in May. More than 6,000 competitors, parents, educators and volunteers converged on campus for four days of fun and spirited competition. Our visitors saw UW-Madison at its finest, with homerooms in our
new Union South, a daylong showcase in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, competitions across engineering buildings and ceremonies in the Kohl Center. For most of these young people, their first exposure to Wisconsin will stay with them forever.

We are also making greater strides in reaching middle-schoolers, whose academic pathways are starting to solidify. The highly successful “Camp Badger” took its show on the road this summer. With support from 3M Corporation, a camp at UW-River Falls gave two-dozen northwestern Wisconsin kids a weeklong exposure to engineering. And our middle-school modules, which introduce young people to engineering “grand challenges,” debuted in six Wisconsin middle schools this fall.

Our diversity outreach programs have produced groundbreaking success. The Engineering Summer Program (see story here), now entering its 40th year, has a nearly 100-percent success rate in preparing high school students for undergraduate enrollment—including more than 70 percent who pursue engineering. And our lead feature story on the Graduate Engineering Research Scholars (GERS) program highlights a decade of tremendous progress, as GERS produced 46 master’s and 45 PhD recipients from under-represented backgrounds since 2000.

And, as always, our undergraduates put on quite a show during Engineering EXPO in spring 2011. More than 7,000 visitors—including 114 busloads of K-12 students —enjoyed the 45 interactive exhibits scattered across the college.

As engineers, the impulse to share our successes and prepare the next generation starts early and stays with us throughout our careers. This is our Wisconsin Idea.

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