May 15, 2002
ENGAGING ENGINEERING EDUCATION:
NOT AN OXYMORON
$300,000 Grant from GE Fund
Will Foster Engineering Curricula
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
That Keep Students on Track to Technology Careers
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.-As the first engineering
program at a women's college, Smith's Picker Program is already
a pioneer. Now, with the help of a three-year, $300,000 grant
from the GE Fund's Math Excellence Program, the college aims
to reinvent the way engineering is taught.
"For too long, potential engineers, particularly minorities
and women, have been deterred from technical careers by teaching
methods that fail to convey the many exciting and relevant applications
of engineering, or because they aren't encouraged to pursue the
appropriate math and physics building blocks before college,"
explained program director Domenico Grasso, R. B. Hewlett Professor
"Our goal is to create a new engineering pedagogy, from
kindergarten on up through college, that will serve not only
Smith women well, but the engineering education community as
This summer, under the direction of Ford Visiting Professor in
Engineering Education Glenn Ellis, Professor of Education Alan
Rudnitsky and Educational Outreach Director Gail Scordilis, a
team of Smith engineering, philosophy, education and mathematics
faculty members will begin building a detailed map of the skills
and concepts that must be conveyed in an engineering science
Based on that, the group will then turn its attention to creating
what Ellis describes as "an undergraduate program based
on how people truly learn, building on real experiences in the
classroom, where students are actively involved in the process
of how they learn."
Lessons learned from that phase of the project will be translated
into curricula for elementary and secondary school students,
with a particular focus on encouraging girls and other underrepresented
minority groups to stick with coursework that will enable them
to go on to engineering and other technical fields. The nationally
renowned Smith Summer Science and Engineering Program for high
school girls will serve as a laboratory for testing these new
While the project's first goal is to improve engineering education
for women and minorities, "this is really going to help
everyone in engineering, because we are using ideas that have
been shown to help all students learn more effectively,"
Sandra Doucett, Smith's director of corporate and foundation
relations, described the grant as "a wonderful acknowledgement
of what Smith is doing for women in engineering."
"This is a big investment on the part of the GE Fund, and
it means that they see Smith as an incubator for significant
new ideas in engineering education."
Established in February 1999, Smith's engineering program is
focused on developing broadly educated, well-rounded engineers
capable of assuming leadership roles in corporations, non-profit
organizations and technology-related fields. The program's unprecedented
linkage of engineering education and the liberal arts is attracting
women strong in scientific and technical aptitude but also noted
for creativity and humanistic understanding. The first class
of engineering majors will graduate in 2004, earning bachelor's
degrees in engineering science.
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost
liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state
and 55 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's
college in the country.
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The GE Fund, the philanthropic foundation of the General Electric
Company, invests in improving educational quality and access
and in strengthening community organizations in GE communities
around the world. All told, GE, The GE Fund and GE employees
and retirees contributed over $100 million to community and educational
institutions last year.