Students graduating from top engineering colleges will lead the advanced fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to become innovative problem-solvers and high-tech professionals.
As students prepare to enter the workforce, universities must implement a rigorous curriculum that focuses on applied learning, industry connections and laboratory skills, tailored to the evolving needs of business and industry. Florida Polytechnic University, Florida’s newest university dedicated exclusively to STEM, highlights the top three trends in engineering education.
- Early-On Exposure to STEM Fields
Applied learning in STEM education focuses on combining best practices of hands-on learning with rigorous theory. Students need exposure to tools and resources that they would potentially use in their jobs on their first day of class. There’s no need to wait until their junior or senior year to use a supercomputer for data analytics, study wearable technology interfaces to develop robotic visualization techniques or deploy rapid prototyping applications in a 3D printing and digital scanning lab.
Exposure to STEM topics starts as early as elementary school. Focusing on STEM activities in an early learning classroom environment is one way of allowing enhanced exploration, problem solving and creative thinking. There is scientific evidence that the brain is particularly receptive to learning math and logic between the ages of one and four, therefore, STEM-based curricula is a natural fit for early learning.
Florida Poly’s professor, Dr. Susan LeFrancois had the opportunity to help create and teach STEM early childhood learning activities for an independent school in central Florida with two experienced kindergarten teachers. STEM education in Florida and across the nation is a top priority early on for the betterment of our children’s future and their impact on the world.
Dr. LeFrancois organized a “Discovery Zone” where students had the opportunity to perform STEM activities. The students formed smaller groups and visited different centers, anywhere from four to five, where they were exposed to hands-on STEM lessons. These students enjoyed the learning environment once a month for a year. The projects included: Oobleck (non-neutonian fluid), Elephant toothpaste (decomposition reaction), Alka-Seltzer Lava Lamps (density and polar/non-polar properties), learning about capillary action with food coloring and white flowers, using a funnel to add colored water to a tube system with valves, food coloring, milk and soap (polar and non-polar properties), and mixing of colors to create a new color.
Creating a STEM savvy student population through early childhood learning is a necessity. STEM competencies include curiosity, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. As a result, many school systems across the nation have implemented strategies that focus on STEM components as early as pre-kindergarten. (Chesloff, 2014).
- Advancements in the Engineering Field
Due to the advancements and emergence of high-tech industries such as nanotechnology and health informatics, the engineering field is increasing its breadth across many dimensions. The traditional view of engineering has evolved as today’s engineers work on projects that solve challenges in sectors such as the environment, health care, manufacturing, business and information technology.
In addition, women and minorities have made great strides within the engineering fields with the emergence of initiatives, programs and campaigns that increase the participation of these individuals. In 2013, women in STEM positions consisted of 47% in biology and life sciences, 38.8% in chemistry, 11.7% in engineering and 26.1 in math and computer science. Progress has been made, although the nation needs to continue to address and increase the participation of all generations within the STEM fields. (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics 2013).
As newer technologies emerge, more students are receiving bachelor’s degrees in fields such as engineering and technology. STEM fields are where the greatest job growth and highest salaries are, a fact students are recognizing and capitalizing on. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2001 – 02 and 2006 – 07, the number of bachelor’s degrees increased by 10 percent and a further 20 percent between 2006 – 2007 and 2011 – 2012.
- State-of-the-Art Facilities
Universities with state-of-the-art facilities allow students to gain an enriched hands-on experience in an environment that is designed and built for innovation. Students have access to the latest interactive technologies that are integrated into their class and lab work. Many universities have implemented online material, which illustrates key concepts that students can access even before entering the classroom, making their collegiate experience more worthwhile.
— Florida Poly (@FLPolyU) January 25, 2016
Distinguished faculty who are experts in their field and have the ability to produce research for publication and students have the opportunity to assist faculty in projects using state-of-the-art equipment. For example, students at Florida Poly are working on projects involving topological data analysis using a Supercomputer. This type of analysis is able to determine if the data is repeating, if there are clusters or any algorithms present. Students are using topological data analysis and trend analysis on the stock market. The goal is to create a model to determine when stocks change based on how volatile they are and how frequently they change.
These three trends in engineering education contribute to students’ ability to join the workforce as engineers and key contributors post-graduation. Hands-on experience, a rigorous engineering-focused curriculum and modern teaching facilities will help students to emerge as tomorrow’s technology leaders.
About Lauren Willison
As the Director of Admissions at Florida Polytechnic University, Lauren Willison is responsible for supporting the Executive Director of Enrollment Services and the Associate Director of Admissions in managing recruitment efforts. She develops and coordinates on- and off-campus events, as well as manages the campus visit experience.
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2013. Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering: 2013. [Internet]. [cited 2016 January]. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.
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