Making the Case for Olin’s Involvement in K-12 Engineering Education
The case for improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education has been ongoing for over 15 years (Katehi et al., 2009). While strides have been made to redesign science and math education, very little has been done in engineering. However, many national boards including the National Academies of Engineering (NAE) and the U.S. Department of Education are looking to develop engineering in K-12 education (Kathei et al., 2009). Though core subjects do not change very often in education, in 2006 the state of Massachusetts added engineering to its curriculum frameworks, the state standards for subjects covered in education (Perova et al., 2009). There are a number of reasons that national boards and industry have cited for moving engineering into K-12. First, it allows us to maintain a flow of students into the engineering “pipeline” (Katehi et al., 2009). Second, in a technology-driven world, technological literacy for all citizens is invaluable to progress (Katehi et al., 2009). Just as citizens should be able to read and write, they should have a basic understanding of how technology works, how it is designed, and how society and culture influences its development. Third, engineering design is an excellent tool for supporting student development of essential skills such as analytical thinking, communication, collaboration, and adaptability (Katehi et al., 2009). Fourth, engineering is an excellent vehicle for strengthening student understanding of science and math (Katehi et al., 2009). However, the biggest problem facing engineering in the K-12 curriculum is a lack of professional training in engineering. Most teachers of engineering in K-12 have a technology or science education background, and very few have engineering degrees (Katehi et al., 2009). To help support engineering in K-12 classrooms, many colleges and universities have started outreach programs. These outreach programs take a variety of shapes. Programs can be faculty-run or student-run; volunteer or paid; part-time or full-time; and/or have students teach in classrooms or faculty train teachers in summer programs. Each type of program has made different impacts on their communities and students. Many of these outreach programs are run through engineering departments and collaborate with university education departments. All of these programs use hands-on learning and the engineering design process to motivate students. Olin College is uniquely positioned for facilitating education outreach in order to meet the nation‟s goals. The college has an interest in bettering engineering education, and encouraging interdisciplinary studies and project-based learning methods. Students and faculty are involved in rigorous education research spanning many different areas. As a small school of roughly 300 students and 30 faculty outside the Boston area, Olin is capable of being involved with many different types of organizations (schools, museums, etc.). The college has started pursuing outreach program development through a STEM program with the Boston Metro West schools and through a service initiative, Engineering Discovery (as well as a handful of other programs including FIRST mentoring and the Society for Women Engineers middle school girls program). However, existing programs require support from the greater Olin community, in order to develop a large-scale operation that is sustainable beyond the four years of an undergraduate experience.